Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took his last stand supporting city workers in Memphis, Tennessee demanding the right to collectively bargain. The 1,300-strong sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 was sparked by the deaths of two Black city workers who had been crushed on the job by a malfunctioning truck.
As the nation celebrated the King holiday, the Virginia Beach City Workers Union, UE Local 111 honored his real legacy as they gathered at the Virginia Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday to request that the council pass a resolution in support of collective bargaining.
“With the recent election of four new members to city council, city workers are hopeful that 2023 will be a year of big changes, including the passage of a resolution in support of collective bargaining,” said Terry Green, chair of the Virginia Beach City Worker Union, UE Local 111, and a Utility Mechanic II in Water Distribution, Public Utilities Department.
In the November 2022 local elections, UE members educated and mobilized workers and allies to vote in support of candidates that openly supported collective bargaining, securing a new majority on the city council.
City workers across Virginia have a historic opportunity to overcome the state’s ban on collective bargaining in the public sector, a racist legacy of the Jim Crow era. A new law, effective from May 1, 2021, allows municipal workers collective bargaining rights for the first time in history, provided their local government passes a resolution in favor of it. Six local governments across Virginia have passed such resolutions to date. Education workers in the Richmond Public Schools ratified the state's first public-sector collective bargaining agreement on December 14, 2022.
“We must guard against being fooled by false slogans such as ‘Right to Work,’” Dr. King said in 1961. “Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone.”
The Virginia Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis released a report in 2021 that found that collective bargaining promotes equity at work. According to their report, “Overall, public-sector collective bargaining tends to boost pay by 5% to 8%, and the fair and clear standards provided by unionization particularly help Black and Latinx workers. Women, who make up the majority of local government workers (especially in Virginia), would also particularly benefit from collective bargaining.”