Frequently Asked Questions About Collective Bargaining

Last updated on December 9, 2022

Use the links below to skip the questions posted on that date.

Questions Added on April 1, 2022

Q1. What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which employees negotiate with their employers through a chosen representative to set various contractual terms and conditions of their employment.

Q2. Is collective bargaining allowed in Virginia?

Prior to 2020, Virginia had expressly banned collective bargaining for public employees since 1977. During the 2020 Legislative Session, the General Assembly considered several bills seeking to repeal the Commonwealth's prohibition on collective bargaining for public employees. Ultimately, the General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that gave school divisions the option of adopting a resolution allowing collective bargaining for School Board employees. The local option is codified in Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2 and was effective May 1, 2021.

Q3. Who is eligible for collective bargaining?

Only employees of a governing body (for example, the Prince William County School Board) are eligible for inclusion in a collective bargaining resolution. This refers to employees who are subject to the authority and control of the School Board, either directly or through the Superintendent.

Q4. Does the school board have to allow collective bargaining?

No, the new state law does not mandate that a locality extend collective bargaining rights to its employees. However, it does require a school board that has not adopted such an ordinance to "take a vote to adopt or not adopt [a] … resolution" "within 120 days of receiving certification from a majority of public employees" in a self-identified bargaining unit (a bargaining unit is a group of employees that is represented by a labor union.)

Q5. What is the process for employees to seek collective bargaining?

Virginia Code Section 40.1-57.2 provides that any collective bargaining resolution must set forth procedures for the certification and decertification of exclusive bargaining representatives for employee units, including a means for other employee groups to participate in this process. Because the statute does not contain any procedures for verifying employee support for a certification, the School Board held a specially called meeting on March 24, 2022, after providing three days' notice of the meeting as provided by law, to address procedures for verifying a certification. At that meeting the Board voted to approve procedures for the submission of an employee certification.

Q6. If employees receive collective bargaining rights, can they go on strike or obligate the School Board to appropriate funds?

No, the statute states that no collective bargaining ordinance shall restrict a locality's governing body's ability to establish a budget or appropriate funds. Additionally, the new statute does not authorize employees to strike, which remains strictly prohibited.

Q7. If the statute became effective in May 2021, what is happening now (April 2022)?

On March 18, 2022, the Prince William Education Association (PWEA) filed a cover letter and affidavit signed by the PWEA President, stating under oath that "[a]s of March 16, 2022, a majority (over 51 %) of PWCS' certified employees have signed union cards supporting collective bargaining, authorizing PWEA to represent them, and confirming their request for the Prince William County School Board to adopt the PWEA's resolution for collective bargaining." The PWEA also filed a proposed resolution it wants the School Board to adopt.

Q8. Did the PWEA provide the School Board with signature cards for each employee?

No. Along with the affidavit the PWEA filed a blank, sample union card to illustrate what a majority of the employees completed. The PWEA did not file any employee's signature or completed card in support of collective bargaining.

Q9. Which PWCS employees are seeking to bargain collectively?

The PWEA's certification was filed on behalf of certified employees, meaning those employees licensed by the Virginia Department of Education or the Virginia Department of Health. In their proposed resolution, the PWEA describes the group of employees in the proposed bargaining unit as "all teachers, school counselors, nurses, specialists, librarians, ITRTs, school psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, and department chairs."

Q10. Does the statute set forth any procedures for verifying the employees did, in fact, sign the union cards?

No. The statute does not establish any procedures for verifying employee support for the certification.

Q11. Has the School Board adopted any procedures for verifying employee support for the certification?

Yes. The full details are available on the PWCS School Board BoardDocs website.

Q12. Did the School Board adopt the collective bargaining procedure in an open meeting?

Yes. The school board's meeting was open to the public. During the meeting, the Board did meet in a closed session to discuss with its attorneys and PWCS staff the legal requirements and procedures pertaining to the certification for collective bargaining filed by the PWEA (and to any certifications filed in the future). Virginia law specifically allows the Board to consult privately with its attorneys and staff members on legal matters. However, it is important to note that after the closed session, the Board received a presentation on the proposed procedures and voted to adopt them. Both the presentation and Board vote were open and accessible to the public and can be viewed online.

Q13. What do the procedures adopted by the Board provide?

The procedures, which are based on those adopted by Prince William County Government, require certifications to include (i) the name, (ii) current School Board position/classification, (iii) employee identification number, (iv) date of hire, (v) signature (or sufficient evidence of electronic signature), and (vi) date of signature. They also require evidence indicating that the person signing in support of the certification authorized the filing party to obtain certification on their behalf. If this information is not provided with a certification, the filing party can provide it to the School Board within 14 days. The full details are available on the PWCS School Board BoardDocs website.

Q14. Does PWEA's certification require them to provide the hire date of employees?

No. The School Board's procedures were designed to align with the same procedures adopted by Prince William County, which did contain the hire date. In fact, two groups of employees from the County's fire and police departments submitted certifications, including original signatures and hire date, to the County. However, due to the timing of the adoption of the procedures following a PWEA request, the School Board notified the PWEA's attorney that no one would be disqualified for not including date of hire.

Question Added on June 2, 2022

Q15. Has the School Board received any public briefings on the topic of collective bargaining?

Yes, the School Board has received two public briefings on collective bargaining, both are available on BoardDocs. The first was on March 24, 2022, and the second was on June 1, 2022.

Questions Added on September 20, 2022

Q16. Has the School Board approved collective bargaining?
Yes, on June 15, 2022, the School Board agreed to adopt a resolution providing for collective bargaining by certified employees and any other employees the School Board deems appropriate. The full details, including a copy of the resolution adopted by the Board, are available on the PWCS School Board BoardDocs website.
Q17. What are the School Board’s next steps with respect to collective bargaining?
At its June 15, 2022, meeting, the School Board directed the Superintendent and Division staff to draft a collective bargaining resolution for the School Board’s future consideration. The full details, including a copy of the resolution adopted by the Board, are available on the PWCS School Board BoardDocs website.
Q18. Have the Superintendent and school division staff been working on a collective bargaining resolution?
Yes. The Superintendent and Division staff have been working since June 15, 2022, to draft a resolution. Division staff expect to present their draft resolution to the school board for consideration in the near future.

Questions Added on September 30, 2022

Q19. Has the School Board released the collective bargaining resolution prepared by Division staff?
Yes. The resolution is available on the PWCS School Board’s BoardDocs website with the agenda for the School Board’s meeting on October 4, 2022.
Q20. Will the School Board vote to approve the resolution at its meeting on October 4, 2022?
No. The resolution recommended by staff will be presented to the Board for information only.
Q21. If the School Board approves the resolution, what will the next steps be?
Once the School Board passes a collective bargaining resolution, it would be up to the employees in the approved bargaining units to begin the process of selecting an exclusive representative (a union) to represent them.
Q22. What is a bargaining unit?
A “bargaining unit” is a group of employees who share a community of interest and may reasonably be grouped together for purposes of collective bargaining.
Q23. How many bargaining units are there in the resolution?

Two. The first bargaining unit consists of any employees who are required to have a license from the Virginia Department of Education or the Virginia Department of Health Professions. This includes, but is not limited to, all teachers, school counselors, nurses, athletic trainers, librarians, instructional technology coaches (ITCs), school psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, and department chairs.

The second bargaining unit includes all employees who are not in the first bargaining unit, such as bus drivers, teaching assistants, technology support specialists (TSSPECs), and clerical employees.

Q24. Are there any specific groups of employees who are excluded from collective bargaining in the resolution?
Yes. The following types of employees may not engage in collective bargaining: (1) supervisors (2) employees who have access to confidential information such as human resources and finance employees, (3) administrative employees such as principals and assistant principals, (4) interns, volunteers, and temporary employees, (5) certified instructional specialists, and (6) participants in the PWCS retirement opportunity program.
Q25. What matters will employees be able to negotiate with the School Board?
The resolution allows employees to collectively bargain over wages, benefits (except those over which the School Board does not have exclusive control, such as benefits from the Virginia Retirement System), and other terms and conditions of employment, other than those matters reserved to the School Board.
Q26. How does a bargaining unit choose an exclusive bargaining agent (a union) to represent them?
Once the School Board passes a collective bargaining resolution, a labor organization seeking to represent the employees in a bargaining unit must submit signatures showing that at least 30% of the employees in the bargaining unit want to be represented by the labor organization. A neutral third party determines the sufficiency of the showing of interest.
Q27. Once at least 30% of a bargaining unit expresses interest, what happens?
After a neutral third party determines that 30% of the employees in each bargaining unit have expressed interest in being represented by a union, the School Board’s Chief of Human Resources will provide public notice of the request. The neutral third party will establish procedures for a secret ballot election. Also, any other union interested in representing the employees would have an opportunity to submit signatures from employees and appear on the ballot.
Q28. Who votes in the election?
All the eligible employees in the bargaining unit would have an opportunity to vote. Any union that gets a majority of the valid votes cast in the election will be certified as the union for that group of employees. A neutral third party oversees the election.
Q29. Are a certain number of employees required to participate in the election?
Yes. The resolution requires that for a union to be certified as the exclusive bargaining agent, at least 50% of the employees in that bargaining unit must have participated in the election. All the eligible employees in the bargaining unit would have an opportunity to vote. If at least half of the employees in the bargaining unit vote in the election, the union that gets a majority of the valid votes cast in the election will be certified as the union for that group of employees. A neutral third party oversees the election.
Q30. Must employees vote in-person?
Yes, unless the neutral third party orders otherwise because of pandemic conditions or other extenuating circumstances.
Q31. If a union wins the election, is the union required to represent all employees in the bargaining unit, even if they do not want to join the union?
Yes. Any union that is certified as the winner of the election has a duty to represent all employees in the bargaining unit, even employees who did not vote for the union and those who choose not to join or pay dues.
Q32. Is every employee in the bargaining unit required to pay dues to the union?
No. Employees cannot be compelled to become or remain a member of the union or to pay union dues or membership fees.
Q33. When would the union and the School Board begin negotiations?
The resolution states that negotiations between the School Board and the union cannot begin until on or after April 1 of any year when an agreement is sought to be effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year. For example, negotiations for an agreement scheduled to take effect July 1, 2024 (Fiscal Year 2025), may not begin until on or after April 1, 2023, and a tentative collective bargaining agreement must be received by the School Board by December 1, 2023.
Q34. Is there a deadline for when negotiations would have to be completed?
Negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement must be completed by December 1 of the year preceding the commencement of the upcoming fiscal year to meet the budgetary deadlines.
Q35. What if the School Board and the union cannot reach an agreement on a contract?
If the School Board and the union are unable to reach an agreement on or before October 1 of the year preceding the commencement of the upcoming fiscal year, either party may declare an impasse. Either party can then seek mediation with a neutral third party.
Q36. Is there a cost for the mediation?
Yes. Under the resolution the School Board and the union will share the costs of the services of the mediator equally.
Q37. Does the collective bargaining resolution adopted by the Board provide for binding arbitration?
No. Binding arbitration means that if there is an impasse, a third party would decide the dispute and make a decision that is binding on the School Board. The school board believes any such provision would violate a law passed by the General Assembly that specifically states no “resolution adopted [by a School Board] shall include provisions that restrict the governing body's authority to establish the budget or appropriate funds.” Also, courts have previously ruled that school boards do not have the authority to agree to binding arbitration.
Q38. Does the resolution allow employees to strike?
No. Virginia law prohibits employees from striking. Employees who participate in a strike will be terminated, and a union that encourages or participates in a strike can be decertified.
Q39. Does the resolution have a process for the Board, Unions, or employees to file legal challenges?
Yes. The resolution specifies a number of “unfair labor practices.” For example, if employees are subject to discrimination or retaliation because they do or do not support a union, they can file a legal challenge. Similarly, if either the Board or a union fails to negotiate in good faith, the other party can file a legal challenge. Unfair labor practice charges are decided by a neutral third party.

Questions Added On October 25, 2022

Q40. Did the School Board pass the collective bargaining resolution at its meeting on October 19, 2022?
Yes. The resolution is available on the PWCS School Board’s BoardDocs website with the agenda for the School Board’s meeting on October 19, 2022.
Q41. Did the School Board make changes to the resolution after the initial draft was presented at its October 4, 2022, meeting?
Yes. The Virginia Education Association (VEA) and the Prince William County Education Association (PWEA) requested 33 changes to the resolution. After consultation between the Board’s attorneys and attorneys for the VEA and PWEA, the School Board agreed to make 15 changes to the resolution.
Q42. What were some of the changes?
Some of the changes included (1) allowing employees to discuss union matters using the school division’s email system, (2) requiring the Board to give the union advance notice if it suspends provisions in any collective bargaining agreement due to an emergency such as a terrorist attack and requiring the Superintendent or her designee to meet with the union regarding the suspension when circumstances permit, and (3) allowing employees to vote in-person or by mail in any election for union representation. A redline version of the resolution is available on the PWCS School Board’s BoardDocs website with the agenda for the School Board’s meeting on October 19, 2022.
Q42. What happens now that the School Board has passed the collective bargaining resolution?
The resolution established two bargaining units. The first bargaining unit consists of any employees who are required to have a license from the Virginia Department of Education or the Virginia Department of Health Professions. The second bargaining unit includes all employees who are not in the first bargaining unit, such as bus drivers, teaching assistants, technology support specialists (TSSPECs), and clerical employees. Now that the resolution has been adopted, a union can submit a request for certification as the exclusive representative for all employees in a bargaining unit. See Q26-Q29 above for more information.

Questions Added on December 2, 2022

Q43. Has the School Board received a request from a Labor Organization for certification as the Exclusive Representative (union) representing a bargaining unit?
Yes. On October 20, 2022, the PWEA filed a request for certification as the Exclusive Representative for “the PWEA bargaining unit” and specified that the election was to begin on January 3, 2023. PWEA also requested that PWCS representatives meet no later than November 4, 2022, to discuss the selection of a neutral third party to oversee the election and the logistics of the election process.
Q44. Is the PWEA currently seeking an election for certification as the exclusive union representative for both PWCS bargaining units?
Yes. On November 5, 2022, the PWEA informed PWCS that it was seeking not one, but two elections, both commencing in early January – one for each bargaining unit.
Q45. Will the School Board and the PWEA share the costs of administering the election?
Yes. The Board’s resolution provides that the School Board and the union will share the costs of administering the election.
Q46. Have the School Board and the PWEA agreed on a neutral third party to oversee the election?
Yes. The parties have agreed on the selection of an experienced labor arbitrator to oversee the election.
Q47. Has the School Board been working with the PWEA since their request for an election?

Yes.  Section 8.A.4 of the Resolution specifies the parties will meet “within 15 days of the Board’s receipt of the request for certification.” The PWEA therefore requested that PWCS representatives meet no later than November 4, 2022 (the 15th day), to discuss the selection of a neutral third party to oversee the election and the logistics of the election process.

On October 25, 2022 (five days after receipt of the request including a three-day holiday weekend), the School Board, through counsel, offered to meet with the PWEA on October 28th or November 1st, 3rd, or 4th. Having received no response, the School Board reached out again on October 31, 2022.  The PWEA responded that same day that representatives could meet on November 4, 2022 – the 15th day.

As agreed, representatives for the School Board and the PWEA met virtually on November 4, 2022.

On November 10, 2022, the parties’ attorneys met with a potential vendor to solicit a proposal for the administration of the two elections sought by the PWEA (one for each bargaining unit).  Immediately after that meeting, School Board representatives reached out to the PWEA counsel and asked how they would like to proceed. The PWEA did not respond until eleven days later, on November 21, 2022. Representatives from the School Board and the PWEA met on November 21, 2022, November 23, 2022, and November 28, 2022.

Q48. Is there currently a formal process for employees to bring their concerns to the attention of PWCS leadership?

Yes. School Board Policy 506 directs the Division Superintendent to “maintain formal and informal channels of communication with all employees and employee organizations.” The Superintendent does this through what’s called the “meet-and-confer” process.

Pursuant to this process, a committee is formed annually with a team from the Division Administration as well as representatives from each employee association that chooses to participate. Participating employee associations send representatives. The Superintendent selects representatives with the goal of having senior level administrators and subject matter specialists who can speak to the impact any proposals may have on the Division and with the goal of being able to provide a response to the employee organizations regarding the feasibility of their requests.  The Superintendent’s team usually includes the Director of Human Resources, the Director of Benefits as well as a representative from Finance, Instruction, and a principal from the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The Office of Human Resources sets out a meeting schedule to take place over the course of the school year to allow for additional discussions. There is no defined limit to the topics that may be proposed and follow up meetings may be held to discuss topics of concern. Committee recommendations are submitted to the Superintendent for final decision-making. Those decisions are then shared with the organizations. Although the process does not result in a formal written agreement, decisions have been incorporated into regulations or other implementation vehicles.

Q49. Will the Meet and Confer Process continue even though the PWEA has sought an election as the Exclusive Representative for employees?
Yes.
Q50. Is the PWEA participating in the current meet and confer process?
No. On November 8, 2022, PWCS invited the PWEA and another employee organization to meet on November 29, 2022, as part of the formal meet-and-confer process (in addition to the weekly meetings held between the Chief Human Resources Officer and representatives of these organizations). During the weekly meeting on November 15, 2022, the PWEA representative said no decision to participate in the meet-and-confer process on November 29th had been made. After multiple inquiries from PWCS asking if the PWEA would participate in the meet-and-confer process, the PWEA stated that it would not participate. As such, PWCS officials plan to meet with another employee association to hear issues of concern to their members.

Questions Added on December 9, 2022

Q51. Have the School Board and the PWEA agreed on procedures for an election?
Yes. Employees will be able to vote electronically through the internet or by phone using an access code.
Q52. Has a vendor been selected to administer the election?
Yes. An experienced vendor has been selected to manage the election. The same vendor has administered numerous union elections across the United States and recently administered electronic union elections in some of our neighboring jurisdictions.
Q53. When will the election be held?
Without any unforeseen delays, the parties anticipate holding the election in January 2023.
Q54. Will the School Board or the PWEA know how I voted?
No. Virginia law requires that votes be by secret ballot. See FAQ #27.
Q55. How much will the election cost PWCS and the PWEA?
The Resolution provides that the School Board and the union will share the costs of administering the election equally. See FAQ #45. The vendor charges $4.00 per eligible voter to administer the election. There are approximately 7,267 employees in the Licensed Personnel Bargaining Unit and 4,442 employees in the Classified Employee Bargaining Unit. See FAQs #22-23.

Bargaining Unit Voters in Unit Charges by Election Vendor
Licensed 7,267 $29,068.00
Classified 4,442 $17,768.00
Total Cost 11,709 $46,836.00
Because the costs will be split equally, the School Board and the PWEA will each have to pay approximately $23,418.00.
Q56. Are there other costs related to the election?
Yes. The labor arbitrator selected by the parties to oversee the election charges $1,800.00 per day. See FAQ #46. We expect that, at most, he will need to spend ten days overseeing the election process. Therefore, the parties may each have an additional $9,000.00 in costs for the labor arbitrator’s fees.