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Dozens of teachers and union members at the June 15, 2022 Prince William School Board meeting to advocate for – in the words of their black t-shirts – “a seat at the table.”

The Prince William County School Board released a draft collective bargaining resolution Friday afternoon, detailing the process by which collective bargaining among school employees in the county could play out and what would be on the table for negotiations. 

Under the proposed plan, which will be discussed at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting and likely voted on at the Oct. 19 meeting, the School Board would negotiate with two bargaining units, one for state-licensed employees like teachers, nurses and more, and another for non-licensed employees like food service workers, bus drivers and others. On the table would be wages, certain benefits and terms and conditions of employment. 

While the Prince William Education Association (PWEA) submitted signatures that forced the School Board to either adopt or decline a bargaining resolution, it will not automatically represent the bargaining units in any negotiations. In order to win those exclusive bargaining rights, a union would need to submit signatures from 30% of the bargaining unit employees. An election would then be held, and the union would need a majority of the votes to become the bargaining unit’s exclusive representative. 

After that, the union would put forth a two-to-five person bargaining team to handle negotiations on a contract with the school board. Dues cannot be mandated by any union representing the bargaining units. 

Potomac District School Board Member Justin Wilk – who’s been pushing for collective bargaining rights since they were allowed by the General Assembly starting last year – told InsideNoVa that the resolution was a start. School boards in Richmond, Arlington and Alexandria have already adopted resolutions, but Wilk said he wants feedback from school employees and the public about how to possibly improve it. 

In addition to the resolution, the school system released an updated frequently asked questions website on collective bargaining, discussing what was included in the proposal.

“I’m happy with [the resolution] but I’m always open to hearing feedback from the community and stuff like that,” Wilk said. “I feel this is a great start, but, as always, that's why it’s up for discussion first before there’s any type of vote.”

PWEA President Maggie Hansford told InsideNoVa the union was still reviewing the resolution and did not yet have a comment on it. 

School Board Chair Babur Lateef said the resolution was primarily the work of the outside legal counsel the School Board hired to advise on bargaining and the school system’s administration. School Board members also reviewed the resolution as it was being drafted, he said. 

He said it includes certain union-friendly provisions that school boards like Arlington’s haven’t agreed to. For example, he said, employees would have the right to discuss union matters while on duty, and the union would have the right to a quarterly report on new hires by the school system.

“The board voted in the spring to approve collective bargaining and the effort that has gone into preparing this resolution was based on requests from PWEA, work from our external counsel, looking at what other school divisions have done, and what we are able to, as a board, work through based on what we can afford,” Lateef told InsideNoVa. “... I am supportive of this effort.” 

According to the plan, the two sides – the elected union and the School Board – would have until Oct. 1 to reach a collective bargaining agreement for the upcoming fiscal year. If they fail to do so, either side can declare an impasse and enter into a 30-day, non-binding mediation period for which both sides would share the costs. After the 30-day period, the School Board would have full authority over any unresolved issues. 

If the two sides reach a collective bargaining agreement, it would be considered tentative and “contingent upon the appropriation of sufficient funds by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in the next ensuing budget cycle.” 

If the Board of County Supervisors fails to appropriate sufficient funds to the school division to meet its obligations under the tentative CBA, as determined by the School Board, then the parties would “reopen negotiations over wages and other economic provisions in the agreement, leaving all non-economic provisions intact until a new agreement can be reached.” 

“To remind everyone, we don’t have any taxing authority as a School Board, so it’s very challenging for us to do collective bargaining like somebody who does have taxing authority,” Lateef said. “We’re bound by the money we get, and we have no say in how much we’re gonna get. If we commit to giving an 'X' raise, but then the money doesn’t come in to support that, then we’re not bound to that.”

The proposed resolution also includes certain non-negotiable “School Board rights.” Included among those are the right to hire, promote, transfer and assign employees; determine job qualifications and descriptions for employees; increase or decrease staffing levels; and lay off employees due to lack of work, changed working conditions/requirements, enrollment and budget limitations. 

The board would also retain the right to “suspend, demote, terminate the employment of, or take disciplinary action against, employees, subject to any right an employee may have to grieve such action pursuant to the Code of Virginia or regulations issued by the Virginia Board of Education,” according to the resolution.

 

Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

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Jared Foretek covers Prince William County Public Schools, the city of Manassas and transportation news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

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