In the US, majority of employees in several industries, if not all, are represented by labor unions (Daninn & Wagar, 2000). The main activities of these labor unions encompass collective bargaining over benefits, wages, and workers welfare. They also represent their members in the event of disputes between the members and the management (Harbridge & Wilkinson, 2001). Depending on the size, larger employee unions, including Virginia Education Association (VEA), can also engage in lobbying activities at both federal and state levels. Most employee unions, including the VEA, are aligned with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), which is a national trade union center. The AFL-CIO proposes legislation and policies on behalf of its members (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001). In this regard, this paper discusses labor relations, unions, labor management relations, and collective teachers bargaining in Virginia.
Virginia Teachers Labor Management Relations
Labor management relations take place at two different levels: federal and state. At federal level, Virginia teachers are part of public service. In the US, labor relations management in the public sector is regulated by the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001). The act limits activities and authority of labor unions. This act requires employee unions to provide notice of 80 days to each other and to certain organizations bodies before engaging in a strike or other forms of economic actions in pursuit of new collective bargaining agreement. It also gives the US president the authority to intervene in strikes which can result in a national emergency. This implies that the act allows Virginian union of teaches to strike provided that they do not infringe this act.
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At state level, Virginia teachers are part of the VEA, and they are employed by local school boards in which the Virginia Constitution vests supervision of schools. According to Strom and Baxter (2001), school boards control main areas, recommend that student achievement be considered during teacher evaluation. The State of Virginia finances public schools, but it does not employ the majority of the teachers (Kalleberg, Reskin, & Hudson, 2000). The Virginia Education Association establishes the minimum standard applicable in educational workplaces within the state.
Through the Virginia Labor and Employment Law Division, a constitutional provision, VEA safeguards the rights of employees, such as a minimum wage. According to Hirsch, Macpherson, and Vroman (2001), VEA ensures that teenagers are not employed as teachers through the Child Labor Division. The Virginia Labor and Employment Law Division investigates any complaints forwarded by teachers concerning the violation of labor laws by school boards. In addition, the division conducts informal conferences and settlement with school heads (teachers' employer) in order to settle minimum wage disputes (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001).
Title 40.1 of the Virginia Code specifies the labor management relation requirements that must be adhered to by both the employers and the employees (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001). According to this regulation, employers must establish consistent pay dates and rates, and pay workers all wages and salaries prior to or on the established date. This safeguards Virginia teachers against exploitation by their employers in the event of a denial of salary. However, the Virginia employment code does not necessitate employers to provide a sick, holiday, and severance pay (Kalleberg, Reskin, & Hudson, 2000). As a result, school boards or teachers employers in Virginia are free to establish a policy concerning the fringe benefits. This implies that teachers in Virginia might or might not take advantage of these benefits based on the decision of the employers. However, similar to other labor relations, Virginia employment code forbids employers from conducting any deduction except taxes or other items specified by the law (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001).
Virginia Teachers' Union and Lobbying
Virginia has been ranked among states with weak teachers' union alongside other states, such as Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, and Arizona (Daninn & Wagar, 2000). Regardless of having the weakest unions, Virginia teachers' union, VEA, is one of the strongest when it comes to collective bargaining and political involvement. According to Hirsch, Macpherson, and Vroman (2001), the success of VEA with state policies can be linked to the effectiveness of school boards, and teachers' employer assigned to each school. In addition, educators and administrators in Virginia have claimed that teachers associations are active, but they operate differently from other associations and unions in other states (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001).
VEA is a statewide union of more than fifty thousand teachers and school support professionals working to improve public education in Virginia (Harbridge & Wilkinson, 2001). Through the contributions of its members working collectively, the union fulfills its important aims. As a union, it advocates for public education and professional development as well as fair treatment of teachers by their employers (Kalleberg, Reskin, & Hudson, 2000). As a protector of teachers' rights, VEA promotes competitive wages as well as an increased school funding at both state and school division level. This ensures that the state retains and attracts teachers. In addition, the union safeguards and defends members from unfair employment regulations, professional liabilities and conditions (Harbridge & Wilkinson, 2001). Unlike other states, the bargaining power of VEA is kept at a strict minimum. The union is not allowed to strike or request higher wages.
Harbridge and Wilkinson's (2001) study demonstrated that the most popular tactic used by a teachers' union, VEA, and other unions in Virginia is lobbying at the state level. According to Hirsch, Macpherson, and Vroman (2001), this tactic is multi-faceted and frequently integrates organizing the union members with adopting legislature. For instance, VEA occasionally organizes their lobby days where members can speak to the Senator or Delegate, talk with state officers, attend General Assembly session or committee, and engage state officials in dialogue (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001).
Virginia Education Association also encourages teachers and other members to communicate with the legislators when they are not in session (Kalleberg, Reskin, & Hudson, 2000). The union has developed a listserv for emails that comprises contact information for all state officers and legislators seeking inclusion. Locals and teachers might use the listserv to communicate with legislators throughout the year. According to Kalleberg, Reskin, and Hudson (2000), this form of lobbying has been crucial to union's strategy since it keeps members interacting while helping with the development of permanent relationship with legislators.
VEA also uses charitable support to organizations, individuals and communities as a way of collective bargaining (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001). Whether through grants, donations, scholarships or service provisions, VEA offers opportunities to those who might not otherwise receive them. This not only assists vulnerable Virginians but also helps the entire community in the long term (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001). For instance, the Norfolk Federation of Teachers has used scholarships as a way of giving back to the community while gaining public support, which is important in collective bargaining. In addition, the Virginia AFL-CIO often buys tables and offers rewards for dedicated servants at both local and state level (Harbridge & Wilkinson, 2001).
As early as 1946, The Virginia General Assembly ratified a joint resolution opposing collective bargaining by public sector employees (Harbridge & Wilkinson, 2001). However, this resolution did not have the power of law, and bargaining continued in Virginia. Indeed, about one third of the teachers belonged to a union. Regardless of a series of commissions appointed to study public sector employees' rights and various initiatives to pass bargaining legislation, the state remained without constitutional precision until the Virginia Supreme Court made a decision in I977 outlawing collective bargaining (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001).
Regardless of bans on collective bargaining by public sector employees and unreceptive political environment, several unions have developed and adapted various ways of being strong and advocating for their members (Harbridge & Wilkinson, 2001). Whereas unions have continued doing this by traditional means, including lobbying and offering members a voice at both local and state level, they heavily depended on non-traditional ways, including community service programs. Presently, teachers' union efforts offer tactics and inspiration to other unions throughout the country which are in an increasingly unfavorable political climate despite facing certain daunting disadvantages and challenges (Hirsch, Macpherson, & Vroman, 2001).
In Virginia, the future of teachers' unions is unknown. However, as long as they are in existence, Virginia educators and teachers should develop blueprint for how unions can survive and potentially thrive regardless of hostility of state's labor laws. Whereas such recommended adaptations would unavoidably result in challenges, and whereas there is no substitute for collective bargaining in Virginia, it is significant to recognize that unions will continue developing tactics and methods which will allow them to advocate for their members. The blueprint would specify how employees can voice their concerns in an effective and efficient manner without infringing the anti-collective bargaining regulation.
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Teacher unions in Virginia exploit the confines of civil service rules to lobby for employee rights and working conditions. Virginia labor relations are based on civil service rules and not collective bargaining. Through the Virginia Labor and Employment Law Division, VEA safeguards the rights of employees. Irrespective of the lack of collective bargaining, teacher unions and associations are very effective in terms of lobbying for their rights. Virginia teachers are part of the VEA, and they are employed by local school boards, in which the Virginia Constitution vests supervision of schools.
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