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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A group of workers with disabilities at the Army National Guard Readiness Center on S. George Mason Drive has gone on strike, pushing for the right to unionize and a reduction in healthcare costs.

A dozen employees with Didlake, a Manassas nonprofit that contracts with the National Guard to provide maintenance and custodial services at the center, walked off the job on this past Friday. They’ve been hoping for more than a year now to organize with the help of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, commonly known as LiUNA, but Didlake has repeatedly refused to recognize their efforts and negotiate with the workers.

The employees and union organizers claim that their Didlake supervisors have treated them poorly and done nothing to tamp down skyrocketing healthcare costs, a particularly troublesome development for workers who need to visit the doctor frequently to manage chronic health conditions. Didlake’s attorneys argue that the nonprofit only employs these workers through a federal program designed to help disabled people find work and therefore they don’t have the same ability to unionize as other employees.

The dispute has found its way to the National Labor Relations Board, but Didlake employees at the site said they decided to go on strike to force more attention to the issue.

“They don’t treat us equally,” Samantha Ulloa, a Didlake employee for the last five years who lives with epilepsy, told ARLnow. “They say they treat us better than regular people with no disabilities. But if we sit down for a few minutes, they say ‘No,’ and have us get up right away and work nonstop… We have nobody to support us right now.”

A spokeswoman for Didlake didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But, in NLRB filings, the nonprofit’s attorneys argue that Didlake has a “primarily rehabilitative relationship” with these employees as part of the federal “AbilityOne” program, and injecting a union into the arrangement could hurt the company’s ability to offer services to its workers.

“The fabric of Didlake’s rehabilitative program and the supports and services received by the participants are jeopardized and could be damaged” if the employees proceed with collective bargaining, Didlake attorneys wrote in a June 2017 NLRB filing.

Yet Ulloa argues that Didlake’s response to the workers’ complaints shows that the nonprofit isn’t truly listening to their concerns. While she appreciates the job coaching services the company offers, she noted that she and her husband currently pay about $800 a month just to afford health insurance — a cost that’s barely manageable on her minimum wage salary.

“The union could help us by getting us better benefits, supporting us and standing up for us,” Ulloa said.

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced today he will send 120 soldiers from the Virginia National Guard to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help with relief after Hurricane Maria.

The 120 soldiers are assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and will deploy in the next week to mission command headquarters. Up to 400 more will follow to conduct humanitarian assistance, clear roads and give out supplies to citizens.

It is the 10th time Virginia has coordinated an aid mission at the state level, not including efforts by religious and nonprofit organizations based in the Commonwealth.

The Category 5 storm destroyed homes and boats docked on the three islands. Four people were reported dead across the U.S. Virgin Islands; the power grid and other infrastructure was devastated and may take months to restore; and residents are in serious need of aid, which was slow to arrive after the hurricane passed.

“Virginia is ready to help communities facing the long road to recovery from the devastation wrought on their cities and towns by the recent hurricanes,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “Commonwealth officials, the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and other agencies remain in close contact with our counterparts in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. We will continue to offer Virginia’s assistance for short and long-term recovery.”

More from a Governor’s Office press release after the jump:

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Someone keyed the words “black bitch” onto a black man’s car on a block in Arlington’s Barcroft neighborhood, where some residents are up in arms about outsiders parking on their street.

The man, who works as a contractor at the Army National Guard Readiness Center (111 S. George Mason Drive), parked his car near the corner of S. Pershing Drive and 1st Street S. this past Thursday morning. When he arrived back at the car that afternoon, he found the words carved onto his driver’s side door and called police.

Officers photographed the car and dusted it for fingerprints. They also took “elimination prints” from the man and Evie Bernard, who carpools with him.

Bernard says she suspects the vandalism was actually targeted at her. She said some residents on the block have confronted her and other commuters about parking, even though it’s a public street and — unlike other nearby streets — not zoned for resident-only parking.

The prior Sunday, Bernard said, she had just returned from a brief vacation when a resident came out of his house and “started yelling and saying never to park there again.” The man, who was pointing his finger and “being very aggressive,” was soon joined by his wife and one of their children, who were all yelling at Bernard for parking in front of their house, she said.

“How would you feel if I parked in front of your house in Waldorf, Maryland?” one of them asked, according to Bernard’s account. The residents had somehow obtained Bernard’s name and apparently looked her up on Facebook, also referencing where she went on vacation and saying “I know where you work.” After about 5 minutes, Bernard drove away and then decided to call police.

“I was so upset that I got in my car and drove away,” she said. “I could only take so much… I was really upset. It was pretty much a nightmare.

Police took a report, Bernard said, but because her life was not threatened it was determined that no crime had occurred. An Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman corroborated that a report of verbal harassment had been filed.

Though Bernard initially suspected the people who confronted her — who are white — might have been responsible for the vandalism, police said today (Tuesday) that the residents have been eliminated as suspects.

Bernard and another Army National Guard contractor who contacted ARLnow.com said the parking issue is not likely to be solved anytime soon. Parking at the George Mason Drive campus is limited and most spots are reserved for employees; contractors are instructed to take transit or park on nearby streets.

While there were plenty of spots available on the 4400 block of 1st Street S. when an ARLnow reporter visited Monday afternoon, a resident said that there are times when the block is filled with cars, including many commuters. He said that residents have tried to apply for zoned parking, but a county parking study did not find enough commuter parking to meet the program threshold.

Earlier this month new zone parking applications were halted indefinitely, pending a review.

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What happens when a fire truck gets stuck in the snow? They call in the Virginia National Guard.

A Virginia National Guard “tank hauler” recovery vehicle towed a fire engine that was stuck in the snow on the 1200 block of North Veitch Street around 3 p.m. this afternoon.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called 535 National Guard personnel to active duty when he declared a state of emergency ahead of the snowstorm on Thursday.

According to scanner traffic, several emergency vehicles have asked for help digging out of the snow throughout the afternoon.

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A famous face visited Arlington to help the National Guard celebrate its 375th birthday on Tuesday. Mauro Castano from TLC’s hit show “Cake Boss” showed up with a tasty treat in hand.

Castano and crew drove the cake down from their Hoboken, NJ bakery to the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington. The New Jersey National Guard assisted in the transport and during the four hour drive.

Several months ago, a member of the New Jersey National Guard contacted Castano and asked about creating a cake for the birthday celebration. Despite being involved with “Cake Boss” and two other spin-off programs, Castano was eager to contribute to the event.

The two-foot by three-foot cake sports a replica of the Minuteman statue on top, a symbol Castano researched and decided should be a focal point of the cake.

“You know what,” said Castano, “we’ve got to put that in there. That’s the symbol of the National Guard.”

The Minuteman is made of chocolate, and like every other decoration on the cake, is edible. Along the sides, all the states and territories the National Guard serves are represented by patches made out of sugar.

More than 200 military and civilian employees of the National Guard Bureau and Army National Guard Readiness Center enjoyed the cake.

Photo courtesy Leisa Grant/National Guard Bureau

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