Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Ends State Sen. Obenshain’s Efforts to Reverse Collective Bargaining Law in Virginia

 

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed two bills from Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) aiming rollbacks at Virginia’s collective bargaining laws. SB 374 would have removed locality authority to enter into collective bargaining agreements with public employees, and would have removed locality authority to require contracts to be performed at prevailing wage.

“The effect of these legislative changes that I’m seeking to undo is that, really, we’ve thrown open the doors for large out-of-state union contractors to come in and take jobs and opportunities away from Virginia contractors, Virginia employees. It deprives us of the benefit of our right to work status,” Obenshain said to the committee chaired by Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “This is a pro-jobs, pro-Virginia, pro-individual liberty, pro-Virginian piece of legislation.”

That would have repealed changes made in 2020 by Delegates Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William), and Saslaw in HB 358, HB 582, SB 939, and SB 182. In its Monday meeting, the committee immediately voted to kill it without discussion or public comment.

The committee gave Obenshain’s other bill targeting labor organizations a longer hearing before killing it. SB 721 would have added a new section to Virginia law requiring public employees to consent before union dues are deducted from their pay, allowed them to stop paying union dues at any time, and given them an annual opportunity to confirm continued membership. Labor unions viewed that as weakening collective bargaining rights.

Obenshain said, “Bill 721 actually does address one of the issues that has arisen since we’ve adopted public employee collective bargaining, and that is: what do we do with public employees who choose to withdraw from union membership?”

“This is pro-worker, pro-employee, and if the union’s delivering, they’re going to be able to collect these dues, but it’s just fundamentally wrong to collect dues from somebody who’s not a member,” Obenshain said.

Speakers from multiple local branches of the Virginia Education Association opposed the bill, along with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a member of the Virginia Professional Firefighters.

SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder told the committee, “We stand with my labor family in opposing this bill. It seeks to solve a problem that does not exist, and it’s real intention is to weaken the ability of working people to bargain for a better future.”

Thomas Jefferson Institute Vincent Riccio said the bill reflects already-established law.

“All this bill is doing is informing people about their rights. It is not a problem yet, but it soon will be because many local ordinances are allowing unions to walk employees into paying up to a year,” Riccio said.

The committee killed the bill, but similar bills are working their way through the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) has introduced HB 883, a companion to Obenshain’s SB 374.

Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) has introduced HB 335, which would prevent collective bargaining agreements from applying to non-union members; HB 336, which requires a majority of employees to certify collective bargaining representatives; HB 337, which bans localities from compensating employees or third parties for union activities and require the union to compensate the employer for activities that occur during work time; and HB 341, which is similar to Obenshain’s SB 721.

Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) has introduced HB 790, which bans localities from entering collective bargaining contracts with law enforcement if the contract includes officer protections against misconduct investigations.

Republicans are expected to pass some or all of the bills, but the House bills will likely also face defeat in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]

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