Union Busting in the Tidewater Region

Peter Johnson, Worker-Correspondent

Virginia has been a notoriously anti-worker and anti-union state from its inception. The home-base of the slaveocracy and the Confederacy still lives up to this shameful reputation. In 2022, union members accounted for only a microscopic 3.7 percent of all wage and salary workers in Virginia. The Virginia rate of unionization is negligible, and the sorry condition of the working class reflects that fact. This is not any accident either. All attempts to organize unions are opposed, attacked, and frequently destroyed by the pathologically anti-union bosses. In the public sector this foul sentiment is also present.

Down on the southeast coast of Virginia, however, the Virginia Beach City Workers Union, (affiliated with the United Electrical Workers Union – UE) have been ramping up their efforts to organize and build their union in preparation for passage of a collective bargaining ordinance. In 2019, the Virginia legislature lifted a decades old law banning collective bargaining for state and local public employees – and almost 4 years later workers are still fighting to organize. The state law merely allows public sector bosses to voluntarily deal with a union, but there are no rights specified and no management conduct that is prohibited. The Democrats in the Legislature who passed the repeal of the ban on collective bargaining have done nothing to push for its implementation. The same old anti-unionism prevails in the workplaces.

And now that they are starting to make some union head-way the management of several City departments have started ramping up their anti-union intimidation efforts. These are just a few of the examples of the illegal union busting tactics being employed by management of several Virginia Beach City departments.

On Monday, February 13, Virginia Beach City employees in the Human Services Transportation department were told that they would be terminated – fired – if they joined the union. It was also declared that they were prohibited from “talk(ing) about the union” on city property, even if off the clock.

Just 10 days earlier, a city employee used her personal time off work to visit the Human Services department Skill Quest building, to talk to employees about the union after they had clocked out of work. She was told by management that she could not do union outreach on city property. She was respecting everyone’s rights and not pestering anyone, but even this polite conduct was rejected and banned by the boss.

Parks and Recreation employees were told by management that they “better not join the union” and implied there would be retaliation for signing a union card.

Management of Custodial, Electrical and General Maintenance workers have expressed anti-union opinions and made veiled threats to employees that have signed a union card. One manager even violently waved his hand in a sexually suggestive such a manner to threaten workers talking about the union before clocking in one morning. This is blatant sexual harassment, and like the rest it is tolerated – really condoned – by the bosses.

These actions, and others by management, are all aimed at chilling and scaring the employees who are determined to exercise their rights to join a union and bargain a contract with the City. This is a shameful situation for any management to operate in this fashion, doubly so in a public employer financed by taxpayers.

The Tidewater Workers Assembly – a local labor and community support group – has reached out and asked for solidarity to stop the abuse of workers who are trying to unionize. It is not just our duty as workers and unionists, but also as communists to stand with this union in their fight to organize themselves and use their rights to collective bargaining. While some limited progress has been made in the State of Virginia over the past decades to respect and enforce the civil rights of the people, no progress has been made to defeat the anti-union bigots who unfortunately control and manage most of the workplaces in the state. Little progress for the working class is likely so long as the unions are systematically repressed.

Build the Unions! The left wing must do the work!

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