The Prince William Education Association and the Virginia Education Association, the local group’s statewide parent organization, have agreed to submit the signatures they collected in favor of collective bargaining to the school division for verification.
In March, the union submitted an affidavit stating it had collected the requisite majority of signatures from the division’s state-certified employees to form a collective bargaining unit. Once the signatures are verified, the School Board will have 90 days to adopt or reject a collective bargaining resolution laying out who will be able to bargain with the division and for what.
State-certified employees include teachers, nurses, specialists, counselors, librarians, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists and more. Bus drivers, maintenance staff and food service employees do not fall into that category.
The signatures have been in possession of the VEA in Richmond as the Board and the union have gone back-and-forth over how the signatures will be verified, with union members saying some signers fear retaliation from division leadership if identified by administrators.
“The VEA has agreed to submit their petition according to our process for validation of their signatures through our verification process,” Board Chair Babur Lateef said in a statement. “This process will begin in the next few weeks. This process is consistent with our desire to have an open and transparent process that can reassure the public with fidelity.”
The submission of the signatures should end a months-long dispute over the verification process, with Board members saying they wanted to ensure that the signatures were authentic and represented a majority of the bargaining unit and union leaders saying they wanted to protect the privacy of their signers. After multiple deadline extensions, the School Board issued a statement last week giving the union until Wednesday to submit the signatures.
PWEA President Maggie Hansford could not immediately be reached for comment by InsideNoVa Thursday.
Passed in 2020 by the General Assembly, a new law took effect last year granting public sector employees the right to form collective bargaining units for the first time since the 1970s, but the corresponding governing bodies have final say in whether to engage in collective bargaining.
The local union says it has over 5,000 signatures to present, and on Wednesday night a number of teachers in support spoke during the School Board’s public comment period. They urged the Board to take action on the signatures. Teachers have spoken frequently about the added stresses and workloads they’ve carried since the start of the pandemic and during an increasing teacher shortage. Prince William’s teachers, on average, earn below those in most other Northern Virginia localities. Superintendent LaTanya McDade has said that increasing teacher pay is a priority, and the fiscal 2023 budget that just passed the School Board and Board of County Supervisors includes a 7% average pay raise for all staff.
“How can we expect society to treat our educators with the respect and appreciation they deserve when our own School Board continues to disappoint and is creating additional roadblocks?” Magally Hurtado, a substitute teacher with the division, told the Board. “If we trust them with educating our children, if they have proven time and time again that they will do what is needed to educate our kids, why can’t you trust them?”
According to Lateef, the sides have agreed upon a process by which union representatives will show their cards to division human resources staff. Employee identification numbers will be used to verify that the signatures are from current division employees, but only job titles will be recorded. He said the Board wants to know how many from each position – teachers, nurses, social workers and more – signed. He said the whole process should take place over the next few weeks.
Still to be decided are what issues the group can bargain on and who exactly will constitute the bargaining units.