Do you want a seat at the bargaining table?
As we are all busily closing out a year that has been like no other before it, we must also take time to look to our future. If you answered in the affirmative to the question I posed above, (and I hope all of you did!), there are steps that we must take now.
In order to secure the right to petition the school board to recognize the Winchester Education Association as an official bargaining unit, we must have, at the very least, 51% membership of all teachers and guidance counselors in our district. Our colleagues in food service, transportation, and our support professionals (office staff, TAs, etc.) are not counted (by state law) toward this particular metric, but please know, that does not mean that we don’t see you and value you. We are fully committed to fighting for you all. We know teachers can’t be successful without you. The simple truth is this: Our power comes from our membership. If you want that seat at the table, if you want to have input in your contract, you must join now to help secure this right. Collective bargaining is so much more than simply negotiating for higher wages. Through collective bargaining, we are creating a school system that we deserve to work in and one that students deserve to learn in.
Friends, I hate to say it, but we have become complacent. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how we achieved the many “rights” we take for granted today. Work day, pay, working conditions, duty-free lunches, restroom breaks, planning time … Unions made these things possible. We have the chance to build on these accomplishments and create an even stronger public education system. Consider this short list of possible bargaining topics: Division schedules, calendars, professional learning, racial justice/equity, “other duties as assigned,” sick leave, compensation, maternity/paternity leave, and evaluation of staff.
When the law changed on May 1, 2021, to allow public school education associations in Virginia to petition for the right to bargain, it joined other changes in the law that affect us locally. For example, Winchester Public Schools now has an elected school board. This means that we must support those board members and potential candidates that support our right to bargain. When we vote for our City Council and our Mayor, we need to support and advocate for those candidates that support public education and the right of teachers to bargain in good faith. It’s that simple.
As I close my letter today, consider the following points:
- Virginia ranks 40th in state spending per pupil
- Virginia ranks 33rd in teacher pay
- Virginia teachers currently earn $9,037 under the national average
- After 5 years on the job, 40% of our teachers are no longer teaching in Virginia schools
We can do this — but we have to work for it — and that work begins now.
Holly C. Sanders is president of the Winchester Education Association.