RICHMOND, Va. -- A jubilant group of Richmond School teachers cheered and hugged Monday night, after an 8-1 vote by the Richmond School Board giving RPS teacher and staff the first group of Virginia education professionals the right to unionize. Leaders in the negotiations are signaling what they will and will not seek during collective bargaining negotiations.
The resolution is the first to be passed by a school board in the Commonwealth since a new law went into effect that gives localities the right to vote for collective bargaining for its employees.
The Richmond Educaiton Association (REA), which already represents RPS staff and teachers, is expected to lead the negotiations with the school district.
“We’re excited for our staff and students because it will also benefit our students,” said REA President Katina Harris, a RPS teacher. “This is not one sided. So we will sit down and collaborate, and we modeled that already.”
Under the resolution passed Monday, teachers and the district can negotiate topics like compensation levels, benefits, scheduling and workday procedures into their labor agreement. Notably, the resolution states that RPS teachers who encourage or participate a strike will be terminated and the union representing them cannot promote an employment strike.
Read the entire resolution here.
Both Harris and school board members said they are still in early days of the process, and the school board must vote on the group that represent RPS teachers and workers during negotiations, likely REA.
Harris said it is too early to comment on specific asks the employees will make of the district and polling of their membership will take place in the coming weeks. Still, she said set and standard planning periods must be a priority.
“Some teachers have four different curriculums to adapt to this year, so they absolutely need that planning time. That’s essential for the success not only of the teacher but of students as well,” Harris said.
Although the final vote by the board was 8-1 in favor of collective bargaining, multiple school board members expressed concerns that the vote was happening before studying the potential financial impacts on a district that is historically cash-strapped.
Jonathan Young, the sole “no” vote Monday, said beyond the fiscal uncertainty, unionizing only add more rigid policies and procedures giving teachers even less control over their day.
“We’re unsure as it relates to the cost of collective bargaining,” Young said. “Collective bargaining, to be clear, is about attorneys and contract negations. If anyone thinks that’s what going to move the needle in Richmond Public Schools, we’re going to find out very soon that unfortunately it’s not the case.”
There is not yet a timetable for when the representation vote will happen or when negotiations begin, Harris and Young said.