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Posted at 6:42 AM ET, 03/10/2011

No union rights? Virginians are used to it

By Peter Galuszka

Wisconsin Republicans have scored a big victory in their fight against collective bargaining for public employees. In Virginia, however, teachers, police, firemen and other public service workers have long done without the right that public workers in 47 other states enjoy.

Virginia public workers lost their right first in a 1977 state Supreme Court ruling and then in a 1993 law ushered in by Democratic Gov. Douglas Wilder. Until the Wisconsin vote, the only other states with similar bans were North Carolina and Texas.

Typically, the conservative movement has pointed to Virginia as an example of how a state can have a decent school system without labor unions. They have denigrated Wisconsin's unionized teachers, although Wisconsin's students score better than Virginia's on some placement tests while kids in the Old Dominion do better on others.

True to form, Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has been on national media outlets such as PBS NewsHour using the ban on public bargaining as a way to bash labor in general. He said: "We banned collective bargaining for public sector employees 20 years ago. And it's given me in Virginia a great opportunity to trumpet our state as a great place to do business."

Besides the public employee ban, Virginia is a "right to work" state, which means workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The practice dates back to the days, mostly in the South, when big manufacturing firms, such as textiles, wanted to keep unions out and wages low so they could steal factories from the North and Midwest.

What does the ban mean to public workers such as teachers? To find out, I spoke with Kitty Boitnott, head of the 60,000-member Virginia Education Association. She says teachers are stuck with the law and are used to having few rights.

The issue comes up mostly when teachers move to Virginia from elsewhere. "In other states, everything is bargained, from whether you can eat lunch away from school to how much break time you get. Our contracts simply say you'e hired for a year and you may be expected to do other duties as assigned, such as work with the PTA or at Saturday festivals."

New teachers, especially from industrialized states like Michigan, find themselves scratching their heads when they arrive in the Old Dominion, she adds.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | March 10, 2011; 6:42 AM ET
Categories:  Va. Politics, Virginia, arts, child services, day care, economy, education, history, schools, taxes  
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I'm sorry for the fact that Virginia workers have to put up with "The practice dates back to the days, mostly in the South, when big manufacturing firms, such as textiles, wanted to keep unions out and wages low...". I will pray for you, because it sounds like the devil has you in his pocket. And before some whiner starts in about "others have to put up with more", maybe those others should look at joining a union.

Posted by: v_vincent1948 | March 10, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The fact that he did not fund the pension account for state employees means that the Repubs will be looking to further screw state employees. Why, because they can. And I have no idea what v_vinvent is saying. I guess it's the result of the great VA educational system which the Gov brags about.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | March 10, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Despite all your condescension in the previous paragraphs, the last one makes the point, though I doubt you meant it to. “New teachers, especially from industrialized states like Michigan, find themselves scratching their heads when they arrive in the Old Dominion.” Ask yourself, how many Old Domionion teachers are moving to Michigan? I would wager a lot of money at high odds that there are far fewer moving that way than this. Perhaps they should “scratch their heads” and realize that they are moving this way and not in reverse due to the ruin that public and private unions have left in their wake in states like Michigan.

Posted by: GnirJ | March 10, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Republicans do not care about how Wisconsin students score

To them, it means nothing b/c only facts helping them are tough as they may be to find.

Posted by: Bious | March 10, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I guess Virginia's "Right to Work" slogan was adopted after George Orwell had published "Politics and the English Language." Otherwise he would have cited it.

Posted by: mindthegap | March 10, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I hope there's a lot more head scratching, as the public wakes up to the abuses it's suffered at the hands of union activists. Public unions, unlike private unions, do not protect workers against corporate interests. Public unions protect workers from the taxpayer. That's you and I. They take our money and then use it to silence our voice in how we want that money spent. Virginians must be smarter than the rest of us to have figured this out so long ago.

Posted by: gracieallan | March 10, 2011 10:56 PM | Report abuse

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