Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas), a freshman lawmaker from Northern Virginia, said he hopes the threat of a teacher’s strike leads to higher wages for educators.
Last week, Carter, who self-identifies as “socialist”, filed legislation allowing government employees in Virginia to go on strike. His bill, HB1764, would repeal the provision in the Code of Virginia prohibiting strikes by public workers, which could close schools or shut down other key functions of government.
The union-friendly lawmaker previously made headlines by introducing legislation repealing Virginia’s Right to Work law, which prohibits employees from being forced to join a labor union or pay union membership dues as a condition of employment.
“We saw [teacher strikes] in West Virginia, in Kentucky and Arizona,” said Carter in an interview with NPR affiliate WAMU, published Friday.
“What it showed us is that teachers are the last line of defense when a state government decides to neglect education. When things get bad enough where teachers feel they have to use that last resort of a strike, I don’t want to penalize them for doing that.”
In other states, teacher strikes have closed schools and left parents scrambling to line up alternate child care during the school day.
In the interview, Carter said he hoped the threat of strikes would compel lawmakers to raise teacher pay.
“A teacher strike would give them that weapon of last resort to demand that the state take the conditions in our schools seriously because I feel that is something Richmond has not done in quite a long time,” Carter continued.
Carter’s labor proposals represent a leftward shift in Virginia’s labor laws.
Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once called public strikes “unthinkable and intolerable” saying “collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”
“Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied,” wrote Roosevelt, in a 1937 letter to Luther Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
In his interview, Carter touts the same threat which Roosevelt warned against.
Education funding is shaping up to be a source of debate in the 2019 legislative session.
Virginia Democrats have begun lining up behind a proposal by Governor Ralph Northam which would raise $1.2 billion in new tax revenue from 600,000 taxpayers as part of a $2.2 billion increase in spending, $1.6 billion of which extends beyond Northam’s term as governor.
Republican leaders have said teacher pay can be increased by prioritizing new revenues resulting from economic growth towards education, without the threat of tax hikes or teacher strikes favored by Carter and other House Democrats.
Earlier today, Republican leaders rolled out a proposal which would block the governor’s tax hike, while offering tax relief to 2.7 million middle and lower-income Virginians through an increase in the Commonwealth’s standard deduction. The plan, leaders said, would not cost the state “one penny” and would leave the state with more money for education and transportation than it had last year.
Carter, who is up for reelection this year, faces a challenge from Republican Ian Lovejoy, who currently serves as a councilman for the City of Manassas.