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Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee Passes Bill to Grant Public Service Workers The Right to Collectively Bargain

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Good stuff from the labor coalition, “Stronger Communities. A Better Bargain”:

Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee Passes Bill to Grant Public Service Workers The Right to Collectively Bargain

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee today passed HB 582, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman’s bill to give public sector workers the right to collectively bargain.

Together with North Carolina and South Carolina, Virginia is one of only three states to ban public sector collective bargaining,” said Delegate Guzman. “We have been far behind the curve of history. All workers should have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Furthermore, if we give our public service workers a voice, they will advocate for the students, patients, and communities they serve.”

Joe Mirabile, who has worked as a fire fighter in Prince William County for 13 years, explained to the Committee why it is so important to have fire fighters, who are “subject matter experts in our profession” at the table “using that knowledge to be better able to serve the citizens we swore to serve and protect.”

Mirabile said, “It is not uncommon in parts of the state for a fire truck to respond to a call with only one fire fighter. This practice is dangerous for the employee and it increases the danger to the public when apparatus is understaffed. Imagine having to rescue a victim from a burning structure alone or being the only personnel on scene performing CPR on a cardiac arrest patient. Sadly, this is the reality for many fire fighters throughout the Commonwealth. In those situations, seconds count.”

Corrections Officer Bridget Squire of Emporia told the Committee how the freedom to collectively bargain would improve conditions for both workers and offenders.

“Our working conditions and severely low staffing levels are dangerous not only to staff, but also to offenders and our communities,” Squire said. “We are losing people every day over issues related to pay, safety, and lack of training. We would see long-term savings if we improve retention among our corrections officers. When workers have a seat at the table, many of the problems that confront us and contribute to our inability to retain qualified employees can be solved.”

“Currently, our counselors average 500 students per caseload, so giving students the real time and attention they need is a monumental challenge,” said Tina Williams, who worked as a school counselor for more than a decade in Fairfax County schools and currently leads the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. “The recommended ratio from the American School Counselor Association is one counselor for 250 students. This bill will help us bargain for what our students need.”

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Authorized by “Stronger Communities. A Better Bargain”, a coalition comprising Virginia AFL-CIO; The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); The American Federation of Teachers (AFT); The Communications Workers of America (CWA); Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Virginia Education Association (VEA); The Virginia Professional Fire Fighters (VPFF) and The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400.