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Alexandria School Board authorizes collective bargaining and teachers union shuns draft proposal

School buses on W. Braddock Road on Dec. 10, 2021 (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria School Board unanimously authorized starting the collective bargaining process with its teachers and licensed staff Thursday night, kickstarting an extensive period of negotiation on employee rights, wages and benefits.

A number of Alexandria teachers an union representatives voiced their displeasure, however, with stipulations in the ACPS draft collective bargaining resolution.

The 17-page document states ACPS will bargain with an employee organization if 30% of those bargaining employees (also known in groups as “units”) endorse it. The draft resolution also outlines rules for a three-year agreement that would cover four yet-to-be-identified topics. After the agreement expires three years later, two additional topics could be added for negotiation. Topics covered could include wages, benefits and terms and conditions of employment.

We want a normal, democratic election without an election participation threshold,” said Dawn Lucas, president of the Education Association of Alexandria (EAA).

Last October, EAA started the collective bargaining process by sending the Board an employee certification submission on behalf of all licensed teachers. That submission gave the Board 120 days to authorize the collective bargaining process by Feb. 13. A full board action on the resolution is anticipated to occur on Thursday, March 21.

School Board Chair Michelle Rief said that she anticipates a future public hearing dedicated to the collective bargaining resolution.

“This has been a long time coming, for sure,” Rief said. “At the end of the day we really want our teachers to know that we value you.”

ACPS is currently experiencing a staffing crisis, and James Rutigliano, a second grade teacher at Jefferson-Houston K-8 School, said that without an agreement that he and other teachers will quit.

“Talented teachers will not come to ACPs if they feel their labor, ideas, and work product will be exploited,” Rutigliano told the Board. “We must negotiate in good faith, and an election participation threshold is simply undemocratic. It tells our students and our community that the voice will only matter if and only if they hold power.”

The draft resolution also says that there will be two bargaining units, one made of licensed personnel (teachers, school counselors, specialists, librarians, school psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, department chairs, and 10-month, 11-month, and 12-month Licensed Personnel) and a second unit made up of “education support professionals.” Administrative employees are not included in the draft agreement. They include principals, assistant principals and supervisors.

Rief said last month that the school system wants to reach a collective bargaining agreement by the end of this calendar year. Such a deadline means that any major changes to staff benefits and compensation could be realized with next year’s passage of the Fiscal Year 2026 budget.

School Board Member Tim Beaty, a former leader with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, won a recent special election by mostly campaigning on the importance of collective bargaining. He said that it might be helpful for EAA and the School Board to discuss the school system’s needs in a meeting.

“I’m persuaded by the arguments that were made that it would be helpful to have a direct conversation between the Board and the EAA about the draft resolution,” Beaty said.

Lucas said that it feels as if the needs and desires of her members were not considered when ACPS created the draft resolution. She said that the association wants bargaining rights for all employees, including licensed staff, support staff, and administrators.

“All employees deserve bargaining rights,” Lucas said. “We want the right to bargain over the many topics related to our working and learning conditions, including current policies, regulations, procedures and practices. If we are unable to bargain over the terms and conditions of employment, there is very little, if anything, left to bargain.”

Alexandria approved collective bargaining in 2021, after former Governor Ralph Northam announced the law in 2020. It took the city nearly two years to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with police and firefighters.

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