State lawmakers are calling on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to raise its minimum wage in order to attract more workers.
Twenty-four Virginia lawmakers, including several who represent parts of Arlington, sent a letter on Friday (Aug. 19) to MWAA President Jack Potter asking the airport authority, which manages and operates both Reagan National and Dulles International, to raise its minimum wage from its current $14.25 per hour.
While pay is scheduled to reach $15 next year per a 2019 agreement, that “will still be well below a living wage in the D.C. area.”
“We are concerned this compensation level is too low to attract and retain adequate staff, especially given the grueling work that wheelchair assistants, cabin cleaners, and baggage handlers do every day,” the letter reads.
It also called on MWAA to provide health benefits and paid sick leave to contracted airport workers, something that lawmakers and employees have been asking about for a number of years.
The letter was signed by local General Assembly members, including state Sens. Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola, along with Dels. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez — all Democrats.
“The Airports Authority thanks the lawmakers for their letter and will respond to them appropriately,” an MWAA spokesperson wrote to ARLnow in response to a request for comment.
Local 32BL SEIU, a union that represents more than 2,500 contracted regional airport workers, supports the call for higher wages.
This comes at the tail end of a summer that’s been filled with flight cancellations and delays even as more passengers return to flying near pre-pandemic levels.
The letter sent by the Virginia lawmakers argues that the lack of proper compensation, sick leave, and health care for airport workers have played a large part in the staffing shortages that are plaguing airlines. These shortages are, in turn, contributing to the problems with cancellations and delays.
Reagan National is currently the 21st worst airport in the world in terms of flight cancellations and delays, according to recent data. Over a two-month period from May 27 to July 31, 5% of flights were canceled while 28% were delayed.
The letter concludes by asking MWAA to move quickly on raising wages and providing sick leave.
“We ask that you take swift action to address these issues by raising the MWAA minimum wage and passing standards to ensure that all workers at Dulles and National can count on paid sick leave and quality, affordable health insurance plans,” it says.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed 25 bills this week, of which nearly half were proposed or championed by Arlington lawmakers.
The new governor signed 700 bills sent to his desk during the 2022 General Assembly session, including some from Arlington lawmakers addressing mental health treatment, medical debt and virtual meetings.
Of those he vetoed, nine were proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), who represents part of the county, and four were filed by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D-47).
Some lawmakers and observers in state politics have interpreted the rebuffs of Ebbin’s bills as political tit-for-tat. Ebbin was at the center of some Youngkin appointments that were blocked earlier this year and Youngkin signed identical House bills in a half-dozen of those cases, the Washington Post reports.
In a statement, Ebbin said he is “stunned” by Youngkin’s decision to veto “meaningful, non-controversial” legislation.
“It is the polar opposite of what he campaigned on,” he said in an email to supporters and on Twitter. “These vetoes, from protecting living organ donors to enhancing consumers’ data privacy to reforming the [Virginia Employment Commission], are not in the best interest of Virginians.”
Gov. Youngkin vetoed 9/10 bills that reached his desk from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).
As @patrickmwilson reported, Youngkin's aide warned of this outcome in February after Dems blocked some Youngkin appointments: https://t.co/HNKTQfna0R
— Ben Paviour (@BPaves) April 12, 2022
As for Hope’s vetoed bills, one that caused a splash was HB 669, which would have initiated a study to see if the Virginia Department of Health should regulate swimming pools and water recreational facilities.
Advocates of the legislation say unregulated pools can pose health risks and the bipartisan-supported legislation would have added safeguards for swimmers and coaches.
A thread: Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed HB 669 @HopeforVirginia's bill that would have directed the Commissioner of Health to create a group study to determine whether pools should be regulated by VDOH. As a swimmer, I have some serious concerns.
— Langston Carter (@LangstonACarter) April 12, 2022
This isn't government overreach. It's something the government should have been doing a long time ago. When a pool isn't properly maintained, it's dangerous to the public.
Thank you @HopeforVirginia for working to fix this.
— Langston Carter (@LangstonACarter) April 12, 2022
Youngkin said the goal is “commendable” but directed lawmakers to consolidate this proposed work with existing efforts, rather than create “duplicative work.”
Another that went up in smoke was HB 675, and its Senate equivalent, which would have eliminated health insurance premiums for tobacco users. He said these higher rates incentivize healthier habits and the legislation would require non-users to foot the bill for increased healthcare costs.
Hope rebutted that it would have expanded coverage and decreased premiums.
HB 675 would have DECREASED premiums by 4.5% and REDUCED the number of uninsured by 14,000. @GovernorVA vetoed the bill. Virginians can’t afford to pay higher health care costs. https://t.co/As81uIkTDX
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) April 12, 2022
These vetoes come after Youngkin vetoed Hope’s bill earlier this year that would have allowed the Arlington County Board to hire an independent auditor for the Community Oversight Board, which reviews complaints of alleged police misconduct.
That duty remains with County Manager Mark Schwartz. Locally, it was viewed as a procedural bill giving the Board a similar level of authority enjoyed by other local governing bodies.
Another bill with Arlington ties, HB 802, would have allowed a local governing body to force landlords to address decaying conditions at their properties if they constituted a serious threat to life, health or safety of tenants.
Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45), who represents parts of Arlington, was a chief co-patron. The text was developed with the Arlington branch of the NAACP in the wake of the discovery of mold, rodents and other health concerns at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike, says NAACP Housing Chair Kellen MacBeth.
He said he was “deeply disappointed” by the veto, calling it “a troubling sign of what the next four years will be like for low-income tenant rights at the state level.”
Still, Youngkin approved or amended a number of bills from Arlington lawmakers tackling their legislative priorities.
Primary day was a good day to be an establishment Democrat in Arlington, though not necessarily so for every incumbent.
A primary challenge to incumbent County Board member Takis Karantonis was soundly rejected by voters, who gave Karantonis just over two-thirds of the vote. He defeats Chanda Choun, who ran on a platform of responsive government, technological advancement, and lower taxes, among other things.
Karantonis, who was first elected in a special election and is running for his first full term, will now face a trio of independent candidates in the fall: Audrey Clement, Mike Cantwell and Adam Theo. He thanked his volunteers and Choun for “a positive, well-fought campaign.”
I will continue to fight for our shared democratic values. Onward to November! (2/2)
— Takis Karantonis (@TakisKarantonis) June 9, 2021
In the 49th House of Delegates district, which runs along Columbia Pike, voters said yes to one of the most liberal state lawmakers in the Commonwealth and said no to a candidate running to his left. Del. Alfonso Lopez, who was first elected in 2012, cruised to another Democratic nomination over Karishma Mehta, by a vote of around 70% to 30%.
Mehta, a Pentagon City resident, was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the Sunrise Movement and local activist group Our Revolution Arlington. She was openly critical of her new corporate neighbor, Amazon, which is building its HQ2 within the district and will eventually be Arlington’s second largest employer — second only to the Department of Defense.
Lopez thanked voters tonight for their “resounding support.”
THANK YOU to the people of the 49th District for their resounding support – I’m proud to be your Democratic nominee!!
Now onto November – and let’s keep working to build a Virginia that lifts everyone up, and leaves no one behind. pic.twitter.com/3kg7yVSBbg
— Alfonso Lopez (@Lopez4VA) June 9, 2021
The other contested local primary was in the 45th House of Delegates district, which includes portions of South Arlington, Alexandria and southern Fairfax County. In it, incumbent Del. Mark Levine simultaneously lost his reelection bid in the 45th district while also falling short in his run for lieutenant governor.
Emerging victorious is Alexandria Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, who is garnering nearly 60% of the vote district-wide to 40% for Levine. The margin in Arlington was closer — 53% to 47% — but nonetheless a defeat for Levine, who loaned his campaign nearly $1 million in his unsuccessful statewide run.
Bennett-Parker was endorsed by state Sen. Adam Ebbin, Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti, and County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, among others. In declaring victory via social media, she also thanked her campaign volunteers.
Special thanks to our incredible team of volunteers who made phone calls, knocked on doors, talked to your neighbors, and handed out campaign literature. This is a grassroots campaign, and I could not have done this without you.
— Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (@EBPforVA) June 9, 2021
In statewide races, Arlington voted the same way as Virginia as a whole.
Former Governor Terry McAuliffe is again the Democratic nominee for governor, with 60% of the vote in Arlington and 62% statewide.
Hala Ayala is the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, despite a last-minute controversy over a political donation from Dominion, with 35% of the vote in Arlington and 36% statewide.
Incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring, meanwhile, is also advancing to the November general election after garnering 68.5% of the vote in Arlington and 56% statewide in his race against Jay Jones, who was endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam.