The Virginia Supreme Court ruled today that local governments may not negotiate labor contracts with their employees and that all existing pacts between labor organizations and Virginia governmental bodies are invalid.
In a major victory for Gov. Mills E. Godwin, who sought the ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that local governments have no power to bargain with their employees, and under the state Constitution they may not bargain without the authorization of the legislature.
At least 30,000 public employees are covered by labor contracts across the state. As a result of the ruling, they were uncertain today of the fate of the salaries and benefits they have negotiated.
Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity said that all union contracts with the county government and school board are "null and void" as a result of the court's decision. He added that "I am assured the county will probably continue to honor the obligations that we've entered into the date."
He said that ongoing negotiations with the county firefighters and the Teamster's Union local that represents the county police are "certainly terminated."
Jerry Wurf, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO), which represents about 4,500 Northern Virginia workers, said the "working men and women of Virginia, who are both shocked and embarrassed by this decision, will join with us in the fight to remedy this injustice through the political process."
The court overturned an October decision of an Arlington court. The governor and attorney general Andrew P. Miller brought the case, testing five collective bargaining agreements signed by Arlington County with its employees.
The Supreme Court, in a 30-page opinion written by Justice Harry L. Carrico, held that sanctioning collective bargaining with municipalities is a job for the legislature. "We decline to intrude upon what the attorney general succinctly describes as a "singularly political question," the court's ruling states.
Del. James M. Thomson (D-Alexandria) last year introduced a bill favorable toward collective bargaining agreement that is expected to be voted on this season. Godwin made it clear today that he will vote any such measure.
Godwin said he was "pleased that the Supreme Court has made clear today that such collective bargaining agreements are not permitted under the law . . ."
The decision "was not a personal victory," Godwin said but added, "it is very significant to our state." Collective bargaining agreements are "not in the best interest of the people of Virginia."
When asked what action Godwin would take concerning Thomson's bill or similar collective bargaining legislation, Godwin said tensely, "I don't support that kind of legislation." He later added that he is not "opposed to our counties talking to their employees about (working) conditions."
Godwin has opposed collective bargaining by public employees bcause he said that when governments sign contracts with employees some of the policy-making power of elected officials in transferred to unions.
Arlington Board Chairman Joseph Wholey said he will consult with county attorneys to determine what steps will be taken after he receives a copy of the opinion in about two days.
"My general position was that what we've done was in the public interest," Wholey said in support of the county's agreements.
About 20,000 of the state's 55,000 teachers are represented by the Virginia Education Association and its affiliates, which in a lengthy statement today, said they will lobby in Richmond for passage of Thomson's legislation Feb. 5.
"The VEA finds it very disturbing that the government of Virginia would go into a locality (Arlington) and disrupt a procedure which has been working successfully for the last 10 years," said Mary Hatwood, president of the association.
Most Northern Virginia legislators were skeptical today about the chances of either overriding the court's decision with specific authorizing legislation or approving legislation that would specifically ban collective bargaining. "I don't think the chances would be very good - either way," said Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brauit (d-Fairfax).
Brault said the General Assembly's current session is too short to discuss possible measures. "There are already too many overriding issues."
Godwin and several county government leaders said salaries and wage benefits already agreed upon will probably remain intact, although workers will not have contracts.
Peter Moralis, executive director of the Virginia Public Employees Council, said, "I foresee turmoil. I've heard workers talking about striking. Chaos could come out of all of this. Of course we've discouraged it."
Some of the local governments said the pay raises we're contemplating they're going to take away," Moralis said. Moralis would not disclose which government made these statements.
The number of workers reported by labor organizations in Virginia was not immediately known today to several prominent Virginia labor organizations. A spokesman for the federation of state, county and municipal employees said about 4,500 workers were covered under AFSCME contracts' about 800 workers were represented by the Teamsters in addition to about 20,000 teachers represented by the VEA and its affiliates.
In arguments before the Supreme Court last December, the state held that no Virginia law, expressed or implied, authorized the county boards to negotiate contracts with labor organizations. They cited a 1946 resolution of the General Assembly making it against state policy to allow local governments to negotiate with the unions.
The county boards argued that their powers are implied because state laws give them the authority to set workers wages and benefits and other conditions of employment.They claimed the law did not specify whether they could use unions to exercise their powers.
They also said the 1946 resolution does not have the force of law.
The Justices said that to imply the boards have certain powers, there must be evidence that the legislature intended for them to have the power.
The court cited unsuccessful attempts in 1973, 1974 and 1975 to pass favorable collective bargaining legislation in addition to attorney general decisions and the 1946 resolution.
". . . the recent Virginia history of public employee collective bargaining is persuasive, if not conclusive, that the General Assembly, the source of legislative intent, has never conferred upon local boards, by implication or otherwise, the power to bargain collectively and the express statutory autority, so far withheld, is necessary to confer the power . . ."