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Arlington Democrats Back Striking National Guard Workers

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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Workers with Disabilities at Army National Guard Center Go On Strike, Demand Ability to Unionize

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.

Jonathan Viera, a LiUNA organizer, says the union first heard about this dispute from one of the employees involved and has been working for months now to help the workers organize. NLRB officials have twice sided with LiUNA and ordered union elections to go forward, but Didlake has continued to appeal those rulings.

“This is a company that receives funds from the government to help out these workers… and now that they’re here, they’re not taking care of them,” Viera said. “It’s obvious that they want a union here to better their lifestyles.”

Ashley Hansen, a LiUNA spokeswoman, says there’s “no time frame” for when the NLRB’s review of Didlake’s appeal will wrap up — “It could happen tomorrow, or it could take another year,” she said.

That leaves the Didlake workers in limbo, for now, which is why employees are hoping that this strike can force some sort of change.

“I don’t know how long we’ll be out here,” Ulloa said.

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Virginia National Guard to Deploy to U.S. Virgin Islands for Hurricane Maria Relief

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:

Governor McAuliffe today has authorized the Virginia National Guard to send 120 soldiers to the U.S. Virgin Islands to join a multi-state, multi-agency response effort to recent hurricanes. The Commonwealth of Virginia continues to send needed supplies, personnel and expertise into the storm-ravaged areas to assist with recovery and give emergency managers on the ground a rest from the relentless demands of their jobs helping others deal with these catastrophic events.

An advance team arrived in the region on September 18, 2017, just before Hurricane Maria made landfall. The 120 soldiers authorized today are assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and will deploy in the next week as the mission command headquarters to synchronize the response and coordinate logistical support. Up to 400 additional soldiers are scheduled to follow soon after to conduct humanitarian assistance, clear roads, and distribute essential supplies to citizens. Virginia National Guard soldiers will be deployed on the ground by the U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp to get assistance where it is most needed.

“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,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “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.”

Virginia has coordinated 10 missions of aid to these regions, not including countless assistance efforts coordinated by religious and non-profit organizations based in Virginia. The largest single mission is readying to deploy this week, including the hundreds of Virginia National Guard personnel deploying to the Virgin Islands to assist with the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

“The Commonwealth has been able to send needed personnel and supplies into impacted areas to make a difference in the recovery efforts and we will continue to do so for many days and even weeks to come as these impacted areas rebuild,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “The devastation to the southeastern parts of our country caused by these storms is of historical proportions.”

“We have been leaning forward and keeping a watchful eye on what has happened in Texas and Florida, and we have assembled a great team of professionals who want to get on the ground and start helping people in the Virgin Islands,” said Colonel Scott Smith, commander of the 116th. “We are conducting detailed planning to make sure we have the right skill sets and capabilities to provide assistance.”

Since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas last month, Virginia has been providing emergency management and response assistance across the southeastern portions of the nation.

Missions can be coordinated through federal partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or through a cooperative agreement between states called the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), through which impacted states can input their needs for assistance and other states can quickly mobilize resources to meet those needs. Logistics and financial reimbursement are then coordinated through the EMAC system.

“Virginia is active in providing expertise not only through state-to-state agreements with impacted areas, but also supporting federal response efforts,” said VDEM State Coordinator Dr. Jeff Stern. “These crews represent the highest level of tactical skills and expertise that make Virginia’s emergency management and response forces vital tools not only for Virginia’s resilience efforts, but also to assist on a national scale when disasters impact U.S. citizens.”

In late August, the Virginia National Guard sent approximately 40 soldiers and six helicopters to Texas to assist with Hurricane Harvey recovery operations, and after transporting medical personnel and supplies, they safely returned to Virginia in early September.

On September 18, a joint incident management team comprised of 15 individuals from across the Commonwealth deployed to assist with emergency operations center management in Monroe County, Florida (Florida Keys). The team will provide command and control support in the region through early October.

A Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) volunteer coordinator is currently working in Texas to assist with coordination of thousands of volunteers arriving in the area through non-profit and religious organizations. This mission is slated to continue through the end of September.

Roanoke’s 17-person Strike Team 6 deployed to Texas on August 30 and spent more than a week conducting water rescues of civilians trapped in the rising flood waters from Hurricane Harvey.

The 14-person Fairfax Task Force 1 deployed to Texas on a mission organized by the federal government to assist in swift water rescues of civilians from August 27 to September 6.

Virginia Beach Virginia Task Force 2 deployed to Texas to assist in federal government organized assistance, providing swift water rescue support through September 5.

A blended incident management team comprised of emergency managers from across the Commonwealth deployed to Texas from September 1 to September 9 to provide emergency management command and control support.

Virginia’s Task Force 2 from Virginia Beach deployed to Puerto Rico under a federal response effort to provide on-the-ground emergency response support for both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Personnel originally deployed September 4 in anticipation of Irma, and 16 additional personnel were deployed on September 7 to address the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.

Virginia’s Task Force 1 from Fairfax deployed to Alabama September 6 to provide immediate on the ground support following the impacts of Hurricane Irma.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Restoration and Cleanup Strike Team deployed to Florida in late August to assist with on-the-ground cleanup efforts from Hurricane Irma.

How to Get Involved

To learn how to help those who have been affected by the recent natural disasters please visit http://www.vaemergency.gov/want-help-hurricane-victims-heres-right/

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Amid Parking Tensions, a Racially-Charged Vandalism

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.

A block away, 1st Road S. — which is closer to a walkway to George Mason Drive — is zoned for resident-only parking and also had numerous open spaces. Bernard said she understands residents’ frustration, but at the same time that does not justify harassing commuters who are parking legally and trying to get to and from their jobs.

“It’s public parking,” she said. “The drivers of those vehicles are not the people they should be yelling at.”

According to Bernard, the Army National Guard held a town hall meeting recently where the parking issue was brought up and several people relayed stories of being confronted by residents, including those that yelled at her.

“I don’t want to park there, I wish we did have parking… but that’s still no reason to treat someone that way,” said Bernard, adding that her employer has provided temporary garage parking for her and has been supportive following the incident.

The 1st Street S. resident who spoke to ARLnow.com said the neighborhood is generally friendly and filled with residents who have school-aged children — as reflected by the nearly half-dozen portable basketball hoops that line the street. He said that he understands that the commuters “have to park somewhere.”

Police, meanwhile, say they are continuing to investigate the vandalism and engage with local residents.

“Parking in this area is not restricted by zone or permit parking,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “The Third District Community Policing Team is aware of the issue and has reached out to residents of the area to address.”

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National Guard Rescues Stranded Fire Truck Near Courthouse

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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Cake Boss Chef Bakes for National Guard Celebration

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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