RPS becomes first school division in Virginia to elect union representative

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)–Richmond Public Schools is the first school division to be represented by a union since the state’s ban on public employees joining unions was overturned last year.

RPS teachers and staff voted over the weekend to elect the Richmond Education Association to serve as its union representative.

RPS already had an employee union, but it wasn’t at full power without this election.

“Richmond is the first school division in Virginia to elect a union representative for the purposes of collective bargaining in 45 years,” said the Virginia Education Association.

Collective bargaining was legal in Virginia until it was prohibited by law in 1977.

Katina Harris, the president of the REA, said 99% of the people who voted in the election said “yes”.

The REA represents about 1200 members. The union will represent RPS salaried teachers, safety and care associates, food service workers and instructional assistants.

Darell Turner, a teacher at JH Blackwell Preschool Learning Center and the vice president of the REA, was one of the many people to vote in the historic election.

“It serves as a bright spot to us,” he said. “Not only does it tell us that we’re going in a new direction in our school system, but it’s also giving us a say in our working conditions.”

Harris said she thinks the union could attract more employees to RPS.

“I think the representation of REA will increase and encourage others from all around the state to join us,” she said.

Jonathan Young, a member of the RPS school board, told 8News that as of April 11th, 182 instructors resigned in the middle of this school year. That’s up 78% from the 2018-2019 school year, according to Young.

On December 6, the school board voted in favor of employees being able to vote for the REA to be their union representative.

The REA was the only organization on the ballot after garnering the necessary amount of petition signatures.

Young told 8News that attorneys or budget negotiators won’t improve the morale and culture in RPS.

He was the only member to vote against it in December.

“Respectfully, if anyone thinks that attorneys and/or budget negotiators between them will constitute what will improve culture and morale in RPS, then I’m afraid they will be tragically mistaken,” he said. “The reality is attorneys and budget negotiators only introduce yet another cumbersome, top-down, one size-fits-all bureaucratic approach.”

He added that he’s attempting to transform RPS and have the kind of district where teachers and staff have the capacity to make decisions absent of middlemen and women, and absent of bureaucratic democracy.

Harris, however, sees this as a benefit.

“We should have the support of the community, because what impacts our schools, impacts our students, impacts our communities,” she said.

The REA will have a presentation and plans to be certified as the collective bargaining agent at the next school board meeting on April 25th.