The ‘Official Time’ in Right to Work Virginia Approaches

Who is going to teach Fairfax County, Virginia school children when the schools pays teachers to do union political activities while they should be in the classroom teaching? One study reports that Fairfax schools paid over $5.8 million dollars to subsidize teacher absences so they could work for the union.

How Big Labor Circumvents Old Dominion’s Public-Sector Labor Laws

Nearly a quarter-century ago, then-Gov. Doug Wilder (D) signed into law a statute explicitly prohibiting public officials at the state and local levels in Virginia from recognition of government union bosses as employees’ “exclusive” bargaining agents.

Consequently, teacher, firefighter and other government union bosses in the Old Dominion, unlike their counterparts in most other states, may not legally wield monopoly-bargaining power.

Unfortunately, the fact that public-sector monopoly bargaining is illegal in Virginia has not prevented teacher and other government union bosses in several localities from acquiring some of the same special privileges commonly granted to union chiefs in Big Labor-controlled states. And of course, taxpayers are left with the tab.

Taxpayers Bankrolled Fairfax County Teacher Union Activities To the Tune of $5.8 Million

Perhaps the most outrageous privilege granted to government union bosses by local politicians in Virginia is labeled by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) as “employee organizational leave.”

This policy, originally rubber-stamped by FCPS 30 years ago, authorizes government employees who are part- or full-time union officials to collect their taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits for conducting union business, rather than for serving the public.

Citing the 2016 Approved Fairfax County Public Schools Budget, the Center for National Labor Policy, a northern Virginia-based citizens’ group, reported last fall that, over a three year period, FCPS had approved the expenditure of $5.8 million in taxpayer money for “organizational leave.”

This covered the cost to provide for an estimated 132,559 hours of compensation for substitute teachers and teachers on paid union leave so that members of the latter group could attend state and national union meetings, meet with FCPS officials regarding conditions of employment, lobby politicians, etc.

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix observed:

“Operatives for the National Education Association-affiliated Fairfax Education Association [FEA] and other government unions use their taxpayer subsidies to push for the same counterproductive policies the NEA union elite promotes across the country.

“For example, NEA union kingpins openly oppose ‘providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions.’

“School districts that allow NEA union bosses to get their way routinely experience shortages of qualified teachers for subjects like Special Ed, Physics and Calculus, and surpluses of teachers for other subjects. This harms taxpayers, schoolchildren, and many hardworking, conscientious teachers.

“It makes no sense for Virginia policymakers to ensure, at taxpayers’ expense, that government union bosses wield far more clout than they would if they had to rely on voluntary membership dues alone to run their operations.”

Virginia General Assembly Can Expressly Outlaw ‘Employee Organizational Leave’

Unfortunately, FCPS is far from the only government body in Virginia that has agreed to funnel taxpayer money into public-sector union coffers through “organizational leave” schemes.

School boards in Arlington, Harrisonburg and Lynchburg, as well as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, have cut similar back-room deals with government union bosses.

“‘Organizational leave’ is certainly beneficial for Big Labor, and for politicians who depend on voter ID and ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaigns sponsored by union operatives to get elected and reelected,” said Mr. Mix.

“But it is not in the public interest.”

Mr. Mix added that, since monopoly bargaining and all other forms of union bargaining are prohibited in the government sector by Virginia state law, it is very doubtful that taxpayer subsidies of government union lobbying and other activism are legal today.

“‘Organizational leave’ policies in FCPS and other Virginia government jurisdictions are clearly vulnerable to court challenges,” Mr. Mix said.

“But the simplest and most efficient way for concerned citizens in the Old Dominion to put a stop to this corrupt and damaging practice is for the General Assembly to ban it expressly.”

This year, Right to Work legislative staffers will confer with members of the Virginia state Senate and House of Delegates to discuss the best way to move forward legislation barring public employers from cutting deals to compensate public employees or third parties for union activities.

“Union-label Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe [D] is not likely to favor such a reform, regardless of how warranted and reasonable it is,” acknowledged Mr. Mix.
“But public opinion in Virginia is so passionately pro-Right to Work that a ban on ‘organizational leave’ could potentially be adopted despite the governor’s resistance.”