Arlington, VA

Arlington Democrats are throwing their support behind a group of workers with disabilities who have spent the last few months on strike, demanding the chance to unionize.

The county’s Democratic Committee voted Wednesday (Aug. 1) to urge Didlake, a Manassas nonprofit who employees the workers, to “respect the rights of its workers” at the Army National Guard Readiness Center on S. George Mason Drive and recognize that they’ve repeatedly voted to form a union.

“We feel the Democratic Party should support labor, and this was happening right here in Arlington, so we wanted to take a stand,” committee chair Jill Caiazzo told ARLnow. “It was not a tough call… and hopefully this will focus more attention on it and keep the drumbeat up. This issue is not going away.”

Roughly a dozen Didlake employees, who provide maintenance and custodial services at the center, walked off the job in late May, arguing that they have the right to unionize and negotiate with the company to somehow bring down soaring healthcare costs. But Didlake claims that, because the company only employs the workers through a federal program designed to help disabled people find jobs, they don’t have the same ability to unionize as other workers.

The dispute has made it to the National Labor Relations Board, where officials have twice ruled that the company should recognize the group’s union, organized with the help of a branch of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Yet Didlake has repeatedly appealed the NLRB’s rulings, and its executives say they’re waiting on a final decision from the body before weighing their next steps on the matter.

“What we’re most concerned about is not being able to help our people with disabilities if the union comes between us and them,” Didlake CEO Donna Hollis said in a video statement released July 11. “We’ve been silent on this issue for too long… We care tremendously about our employees and want to make sure they’re not losing access to government funded programs and services.”

The company expects a final NLRB ruling before the end of the year. In the meantime, company spokeswoman Erika Spalding told ARLnow that Didlake has “had to hire temporary employees to fill the gaps” left by the striking workers.

“We agree that the wages and costs of healthcare can be improved for our employees,” Hollis said. “But we need more funding to serve more people”

Regardless of the company’s financial situation, workers argue that they’ve long been underpaid and had to cope with rising healthcare costs on low salaries. Some say they earn less than $13 an hour, and none of the striking workers make as much as $15 an hour, factors noted by the ACDC in its resolution supporting the workers.

They believe a union could help at least get the two sides talking to hash out these issues. But, for now, it seems the company and its workers will stay at an impasse.

“We are very constrained by the legal requirements around this so we are unable to communicate with our own employees around this issue,” Spalding said. “It would be construed as interfering with the employees’ rights to organize.”

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