Arlington, VA

The following op-ed was written by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington).

The Labor Day holiday may have passed but the rights of workers remain at the forefront of my agenda.

When Democrats flip the General Assembly this year, it will be the first progressive legislature in modern history. Democrats will finally be in position to make government work for all Virginians, not just the wealthy few and big corporate donors. While Virginia may be the best state for business, it is the worst state for workers and that needs to change.

At the very top of the progressive agenda is to repeal the so-called “Right-to-Work.” Eradicating this law is both a civil rights issue and a matter of economic justice. Hopefully, it will also be at the top of Governor Ralph Northam’s list, and that of his newly established Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. This commission is charged with reviewing the Virginia Code and administrative regulations to address the Commonwealth’s remaining policies that promote or enable racial discrimination or inequity. Its report is due to the Governor by November 15th.

A little history: the origins of Virginia’s right-to-work law is based on discrimination. Virginia passed its right-to-work law in 1947 during the tenure of Governor William Tuck, an avowed segregationist and union buster. Right-to-work spread across the south and mid-western states after World War II to block workers of all races from coming together to fight for better wages and benefits.

Dr. Martin Luther King understood the true nature of right-to-work. Dr. King said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone… Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped.”

So why hasn’t this law been repealed sooner? A lot of right-to-work’s staying power has to do with its name, and the support received from the business community and the Republican Party.

Right-to-work may sound positive but it is far from it. People mistakenly think “right-to-work” means “right to a job,” and that they cannot be fired without cause. This is the exact opposite of what it means. Right-to-work prohibits union security agreements between companies and labor unions. It creates an unfair environment where employees cannot be compelled to join a union or pay union dues, but still may receive the benefits and protections of unions if they work in a unionized environment.

The purpose of right-to-work is to starve unions and make it harder for them to be effective advocates for things like: living wages, employer-sponsored family health insurance, vacation and sick leave, and pensions – all things Arlingtonians support. And make no mistake: while right-to-work hurts all workers, this policy has an outsized effect on people of color because they are the segment of the workforce mostly likely seeking to organize and fight for better wages and benefits.

Virginians are not fooled. When Republicans and business groups led an effort in 2016 to enshrine right-to-work in the Virginia Constitution, it was rejected by Virginia voters 54 percent to 46 percent. In Arlington, it was soundly rejected 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent.  When Virginia Democrats take the majority in 2020, it’s time to repeal Right-to-Work and put Virginia workers first.

Op-eds are written by local newsmakers on local topics of interest. The views and opinions expressed in the op-ed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.

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A rally for airline workers rights drew hundreds to Reagan National Airport, including a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Labor union UNITE HERE helped organize the rally in support of airport catering workers, who are planning a large-scale strike if their demands for better wages and benefits are not met. Presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were among those on hand to support the workers, along with other labor unions and local officials.

“No one should have to choose between healthcare and paying the rent,” Warren called out amid cheers.

The Massachusetts senator’s speech on Tuesday echoed her support for more corporate regulations.

“Giant corporations believe if they just push hard enough the unions will just go away,” she said. Since entering the race in February, Warren has since risen in recent polls to second among the crowded field.

Tuesday’s crowd was equally loud for two-time presidential candidate Sanders, who was ushered to the podium among chants of “We Love Bernie!”

“At a time when corporate profits are a record-breaking level, our demands are simple,” said the senator, who rose to popularity for his stance on economic inequality. “Pay your workers a living wage and provide… affordable healthcare for your workers,” Sanders said.

Sanders noted workers in the D.C. area “cannot live on $10 hour” wages due to the rising costs of living and housing.

Presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio also received a warm welcome and led the crowd in chanting of “working people first!”

“I hear they made $15 billion in profits last year,” de Blasio said of recent airline earning reports. “Are are they sharing that?”

De Blasio, who has generated little enthusiasm for his campaign so far, ended his speech by touting his new “Bill of Rights for Working People.”

The catering workforce authorized the strike earlier in June, but airline workers must gain approval from the federal National Mediation Board for large-scale strikes due to the potential impact on travelers. Workers are seeking to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the private companies who contract them to assemble the food for airlines: LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet.

The companies have said they cannot meet the demands for increased wages and benefits, telling the Huffington Post that could “more than double” their costs.

About a thousand union members in red shirts with slogans like “One Job Should Be Enough” gathered in Terminal A to hear the speakers. But it’s not the first time DCA has seen labor unrest. In 2016, service workers nearly went on strike for a $15 minimum wage.

“We’re going to fight like hell,” UNITE HERE president D. Taylor told the cheering crowd Tuesday night. “We’re going to kick the hell out of American [Airlines].”

Workers at several other airports nationwide are also asking for permission to strike, according to a map shared by the union.

Catering employees Tenai Stover and Eric Brightley, who said they prepare the food and beverages served on DCA and Dulles flights as part of their work at LSG Sky Chefs, each described to ARLnow difficulty making ends meet given the meager pay.

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Morning Notes

Amazon Talking to Unions — “Amazon.com Inc., JBG Smith Properties Inc. and union representatives in the D.C. region have met a few times in the last six weeks to discuss benefits and wages for the workers who will build HQ2 in Pentagon City.” [Washington Business Journal]

Changes Coming to Arlandria? — “For decades, developers have eyed Arlandria, the working-class neighborhood near Reagan National Airport where a transplanted Hispanic culture flourishes amid Northern Virginia’s upscale condominiums… Now, crime is down, the economy is humming, and Amazon is moving in virtually next door, with plans to hire thousands of well-paid workers, who’ll be in search of easy commutes.” [Washington Post]

Local Strategist Sued by U.S. Rep Raising Funds — Political strategist and Arlington resident Liz Mair is being sued by Rep. Devin Nunes, in a bizarre defamation suit that also names Twitter and two parody Twitter accounts as defendants. Mair is raising money for her legal defense. [Donorbox, Twitter]

Op-Ed: Nix Arlington Arts Cuts — “If the 2020 budget that Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz submitted to the County Board is implemented, it will prove to be devastating to the Arlington arts community.” [Washington Post]

Arlingtonians Help Save Bird — A pair of Arlington residents, including former Arlington Outdoor Lab executive director Neil Heinekamp, “came to the rescue of a distressed bird” found on a nature trail in The Villages, Florida.  [InsideNova]

Kitchen Fire in N. Arlington High Rise — “Units called to 4300 blk of Lorcom Lane for oven fire on 6th floor of a residential high rise. Fire is out with minor extension to surrounding cabinets. Crews working to ventilate smoke and scaling back response.” [Twitter]

Nearby: Halal Butchery Controversy Continues — “Letter-writer compares proposed halal butchery in Alexandria to *slave auctions*: this is the same brutality…’ Even by the standards of Alexandria micro-controversies, the rhetoric around this thing is remarkable.” [Alexandria Times, Twitter]

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Amazon is showing an increasing willingness to sign a collective bargaining agreement with local unions before it sets to work building new office space in Arlington, perhaps meeting a frequent demand of activists concerned about the tech giant’s labor practices.

Though the company cautions that nothing is set in stone until county officials formally sign off on an incentive deal to bring the tech giant’s new headquarters to Crystal City and Pentagon City, Amazon is sending signals that it’s open to the prospect of striking a “project labor agreement” with construction workers who could someday erect the company’s future home in Arlington.

Should the company someday strike such a deal, commonly known as a “PLA,” the agreement would set out the employment conditions for all workers involved in Amazon’s construction efforts (whether or not they belong to a union) before the company starts accepting bids for the project. The PLA could govern everything from pay rates to workers’ compensation claims, and the agreements are generally designed to ensure labor peace during a major project while also improving conditions for workers.

“We’re definitely open to it,” Amazon spokeswoman Jill Kerr told ARLnow. “But this is all still pretty early. We really have our heads down, focused on working with the community on this initial package for approval before county officials.”

Kerr says that company has already held an initial meeting on the topic with representatives from the Baltimore-D.C. Building Trades, a coalition of unionized construction workers, and JBG Smith, the company’s future landlord at some existing buildings and development partner for other properties.

A spokesman for JBG Smith declined to comment on the deliberations, but Kerr stressed that discussions were “all hypothetical” and remain very much in the earliest possible stages of debate. Amazon plans to both build new offices in Pentagon City and renovate others in Crystal City, and Kerr believes it’s too early to say how any future PLA would apply to that range of projects.

However, Steve Courtien, the D.C. field representative for the building trades, came away from the meeting cautiously optimistic about the prospects of someday striking a deal with Amazon.

During a Feb. 3 town hall on Amazon convened by Arlington Democrats, he said the company seemed generally “positive” about the idea, particularly because the tech firm has worked out PLAs for some of its other projects around the country — Kerr said she was unable to confirm that latter assertion.

As for JBG Smith, Courtien said the idea of a PLA was more of a “mind bend” to them, but he fully expects the development firm to follow Amazon’s lead, given the size of the company’s investment in the area.

“That’s what they have to get past,” Courtien said. “Amazon basically has to tell JBG, ‘this is what we want,’ then they say ‘OK’ and negotiate the PLA with private contractors.”

The County Board is signaling that it’s broadly supportive of those efforts, and members have said in the past that they’ve encouraged Amazon to strike a PLA before moving into Arlington.

But Virginia law prohibits government agencies from requiring PLAs as a condition of allowing new construction (in keeping with the state’s tradition of pro-business, anti-union regulations) and county officials are cautioning that they’ll only have a limited role to play in the discussions.

“I think I speak for the whole Board in saying it’s something we’re all supportive of,” County Board member Erik Gutshall said during the town hall. “But it’s not something we can legally mandate from them.”

Anti-Amazon activists have been similarly enthusiastic about the idea of a PLA for the company’s construction work, considering the frequent concerns raised about how the tech giant treats its warehouse workers.

Stories of employees being unable to take bathroom breaks without risking their jobs or warehouses filled with boiling heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter have spooked many county residents. Roshan Abraham, a leading Amazon critic as part of his leadership role with the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, also points out that the company has pledged to oppose any unionization efforts it encounters at its other new headquarters in New York City.

That’s why Abraham believes it will be crucial for Arlington workers to secure a PLA before Amazon comes to town, though he fears it might not be enough to combat the huge company’s power.

“We shouldn’t stop just at a PLA,” Abraham said during the town hall. “We should be pressuring them even further to stay out of their union-busting behavior, which has been pretty well documented elsewhere.”

Ultimately, Abraham is so skeptical of the company’s business practices that he believes it’s a poor fit for Arlington’s values (even though he is “not that deluded” to believe that the county will turn down the company’s new headquarters).

Board members say they have their own concerns about Amazon’s ethics, whether it signs a PLA or not, but they don’t believe they’re substantial enough to justify barring the company from moving in.

After all, Gutshall pointed out that Arlington is also home to Boeing, a major military contractor, and while he may not like that they “manufacture equipment that is designed to kill people all over the world,” he hasn’t tried to chase the company away.

“We’ve not made it a condition of a corporation locating here or a resident locating here to abide by our progressive values for how you conduct your business,” said County Board member Katie Cristol. “Some 10 or 15 percent of Arlingtonians voted for Donald Trump. I’m not a fan of that, but I’m not going to try to kick them out of Arlington County or say they can’t live here.”

Photo via JBG Smith

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How might lowly local officials be able to bring one of the world’s largest companies to heel?

That’s the prime question on the minds of many Arlington and Alexandria residents worried about how Amazon might soon reshape their communities.

And while county and city leaders are optimistic that the tech giant will prove to be a reliable partner in the region, they’re also admitting that they don’t have all that many tools to push Jeff Bezos and company around.

“We have to focus on using the policy tools that we do have,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol at an Amazon-focused town hall in Crystal City’s Synetic Theater last night (Monday).

Public speakers at the event, which was hosted by WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, fretted over how localities might address everything from the company’s labor practices to its commitment to hiring a diverse workforce.

Leaders in attendance sought to reassure nervous neighbors that localities will be able to extract community benefits from the company as it builds new space in Pentagon City and Crystal City. County Board member Libby Garvey even expressed optimism that “Amazon is going to affect us, but we’re going to affect Amazon too” when it comes to changing the company’s culture.

But concerns abound that Amazon’s status as the new economic engine for the area will give it unprecedented bargaining power in any dispute with local leaders.

“The County Board works really hard and wants to do the best they can for us, but Amazon, at any point, can say ‘No,'” said Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington, a progressive group that has opposed the county’s pursuit of Amazon. “They always threaten to pack up and leave, it’s what they always do…  We have very little leverage, particularly at the political level.”

Part of the problem for local leaders is that state law limits their ability to pursue some of the most aggressive pro-worker measures favored by Amazon skeptics. Virginia’s legislature, long dominated by Republicans, has adopted a series of measures designed to make the state more business friendly — perhaps most notably, Virginia is a “right to work” state, limiting the ability of unions to charge workers fees for representing them.

Several members of local unions urged officials to press Amazon to sign “project labor agreements” ahead of any new headquarters construction, or a contract with a union to lay out the working conditions for a project before construction gets started.

But Virginia has laws on the books designed to limit government agencies from requiring such agreements, and Cristol pointed out that “the state has made it very clear that we can’t use those” in many situations.

However, she did pledge to urge Amazon to work with unions and offer fair working conditions on its construction sites — and the question gave her a chance to underscore just how meaningful it might be if her fellow Democrats seized control of the General Assembly in next year’s elections.

Other attendees were similarly nervous that the county won’t be able to force Amazon to fork over cash to spur the development of more affordable housing, particularly as the arrival of the company’s planned 25,000 workers strain the region’s housing market.

On that front, however, Arlington officials are confident that they’ll be able to use their existing development process to require Amazon to chip in more money for its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to incentivize reasonably priced development. Of course, that will have to wait until the company starts building new facilities, which could take years yet.

In the meantime, housing advocates are optimistic that the tech giant is committed to the issue of housing affordability, and could agree to some select contributions on its own.

Carmen Romero, vice president of real estate development with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said both Amazon and its major landlord in Arlington (JBG Smith) have told her they “want to be at the table” when it comes to discussions about creating new affordable developments. She even suggested that JBG could agree to donate some small portion of the large swaths of land it owns in Crystal City and Pentagon City to a nonprofit like her group, allowing for new affordable homes in the immediate vicinity of the headquarters.

“It’s very fair to ask Amazon to join us at the table as part of the philanthropic community,” Cristol said. “If they’re going to be a major player here, we’re very interested in seeing a big commitment from them.”

Alexandria Mayor-elect Justin Wilson added that the mere fact of Amazon’s interest in the region has already changed the conversation at the state level. He noted that state lawmakers were previously reticent to commit to major affordable housing funding, despite Northern Virginia leaders “banging our heads against the wall in Richmond,” but officials agreed to send an additional $15 million to the Virginia Housing Development Authority as part of the offer to Amazon.

“This was important to Amazon,” Wilson said, drawing a few laughs from skeptics in the audience. “But we were able to make the argument to the state government that this was something that had to be part of the package to help us attract a major employer.”

For Amazon opponents, however, it’s not enough that the company and state might voluntarily agree to measures to offset the impending impacts on the county.

Abraham’s group is pushing the concept of a “community benefits agreement,” a deal that a coalition of neighbors would strike directly with the company to ensure it invests in the community’s priorities, as an alternative to government officials haggling on their behalf.

It may not be enough to answer all their concerns, but he expects it may be a better path to pursue than hoping local politicians can win battles with a company owned by the world’s richest man.

“If we get Amazon to make these commitments to our community now, that, I believe, is the best way we have of protecting ourselves,” Abraham said.

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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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Construction-related changes at one Reagan National Airport arrivals terminal have local taxi drivers fuming, and they argue airport officials are ignoring their complaints while catering to ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Dozens of drivers serving the airport have begun leading protests outside Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority meetings in Crystal City, with the most recent demonstration coming last week, in order to force attention on the issue.

Backed by the National Airport Taxi Drivers Association and progressive organizers with New Virginia Majority, the drivers are urging the airport to change how it’s managing construction work that’s necessitated lane closures at its arrivals area for Terminals B/C. With less curb space available, they say taxis are getting squeezed out by Uber and Lyft drivers, with cabs unable to leave their taxi stands in a timely fashion due to the increased traffic.

“That’s not good for passengers or drivers, because we’re just sitting there with the meter running for 10, 15 minutes at a time,” said Tibebu Ergete, a longtime taxi driver and one of the organizers of the protests. “This is destroying our business.”

Ergete estimates that some drivers have seen as much as a 40 percent dip in earnings as they increasingly jockey for curb space with rideshare drivers, though he would concede that taxis have seen ridership declines for years now as Uber and Lyft have gained popularity.

Still, he’d rather see rideshare customers shuttled off the premises to meet their drivers, who already have to stage in a nearby parking lot as they wait to accept rides.

“We’ve given [the MWAA] plenty of options to deal with the construction,” Ergete said. “But they won’t listen to us. They only put Uber’s interests first.”

Christina Saull, a spokeswoman for the MWAA, said airport officials are trying to balance the competing demands of everyone impacted by the construction, and said the “dialogue is ongoing” about how to improve arrival conditions. However, she would say that the MWAA does not see shuttling rideshare users elsewhere as a workable solution, arguing that “we don’t see that as providing good customer service for anyone.”

“We’ve considered everything they’ve suggested,” Saull said. “But we have to weigh a multitude of preferences in this case. We’re moving a large volume of traffic through a really small area.”

Uber spokesman Colin Tooze wrote in a statement that the construction means “the pickup experience at DCA is not an ideal one right now” but said his company in “regular dialogue” with the MWAA to ensure “ensure a smooth experience for riders and drivers.” Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews wrote in a statement that “we are glad to work with officials at the airport on a pickup and drop off arrangement that works well for passengers, drivers and the airport.”

Saull also pointed out that taxi drivers already have double the curbside pickup space at the arrival terminal compared to rideshare drivers, and that the MWAA levies a higher fee on airport trips by Uber and Lyft than it does for taxis.

But Ergete believes the MWAA is still overly deferential to the companies, as demonstrated by the refusal by its Board of Directors to discuss these complaints at any of its meetings.

Saull is urging drivers and passengers alike to simply “hang with us until the middle of next year,” when construction work at National will move inside, and the arrival lanes will reopen. Yet Ergete fears the damage inflicted by the current setup may prove to be irreversible.

“Our concern is our future,” Ergete said. “If they destroy the taxi industry, what is going to happen to the public? What is going to happen to the drivers who have been there for 40, 50 years?”

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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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Reagan AirportAirport workers at Reagan National and Dulles International airports may go on strike during the holiday season as part of an ongoing campaign for higher pay.

The union leading the charge, 32BJ SEIU, says that wheelchair attendants, skycaps, baggage handlers, checkpoint agents and cabin cleaners at the airports “earn as little as $6.75 an hour plus unreliable tips.”

The strike was authorized during a rally at National Airport today.

“The entire crowd marched for nearly a mile outside DCA to the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority headquarters to demand that the board ensure contractors pay their workers $15 an hour,” the union said in a press release. “The workers were part of a nationwide Fight for $15 day of disruption, including strikes and protests at 330 locations and at 20 major airports nationwide.”

Among those participating in the rally were the workers, clergy, community groups and state delegate Alfonso Lopez.

“Given the vital role that airport workers play in keeping air travel running smoothly, safely, and on-time, it is disappointing that contracted workers at DCA are not paid a living wage for the critical work that they do,” Del. Lopez (D-Arlington) said in a statement. “In our nation’s capital, we can and should do better for those who help keep our economy moving. MWAA should act now to ensure that contractors are paid $15 an hour.”

Locally, the workers are employed by a private contractor, Huntleigh Corporation.

More from the press release:

“We work very hard to ensure that travelers have a safe and clean airport, but we are ready to go on strike to ensure we can provide for our families,” said Aynalem Lale, a wheelchair dispatcher at Dulles. “If I made $15 an hour, I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and would not have to sleep at the airport between jobs.” …

Four decades ago, every job in an airport was a good, family-sustaining one. Men and women worked directly for the major airlines, which paid a living wage, provided pensions and health care and respected Americans’ right to stick together in a union. That’s no longer the case. Today, most Americans who work at airports are nonunion and are employed by subcontractors that pay low wages, without any benefits. Their jobs now represent the failures of a political and economic system geared towards the wealthy few and corporate profits at any cost.

Between 2002 and 2012 outsourcing of baggage porter jobs more than tripled, from 25 percent to 84 percent, while average hourly real wages across both directly-hired and outsourced workers declined by 45 percent, to $10.60/hour from more than $19/hour. Average weekly wages in the airport operations industry did not keep up with inflation, but instead fell by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011.

America’s airports themselves are also a symbol of the concerted effort to erode the ability of working people to improve their jobs. President Reagan fired and permanently replaced 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, paving the way for a decades-long march by corporations and elected officials to systematically dismantle Americans’ right to join together on the job. By zeroing in on airports Nov. 29, worker-class families are looking to transform a symbol of their decline into a powerful show of their renewed force.

All told, the Fight for $15 has led to wage hikes for 22 million underpaid workers, including more than 10 million who are on their way to $15/hour, by convincing everyone from voters to politicians to corporations to raise pay. The movement was credited as one of the reasons median income jumped last year by the highest percentage since the 1960s.

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Flags in at Arlington National Cemetery (Flickr pool photo by Sunday Money)As Memorial Day approaches, the contract groundkeepers who help to maintain the hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery are preparing for a possible strike.

The workers have faced eight months of delay in seeking a new contract with “modest” pay increases and a paid sick leave option, according to their union, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA). The workers are employed by Davey Tree Expert Co. and Greenleaf Services Inc., which have contracts with the cemetery, LiUNA says.

The union issued the following press release this afternoon.

The men and women who care for the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery may strike the cemetery’s grounds-keeping contractor, following nearly eight months of delay in reaching a new contract agreement.

The 45 workers, members of Local 572 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, are seeking three annual pay increases and the introduction of paid sick leave. The workers are jointly employed by Davey Tree Expert Co. and Greenleaf Services Inc.

“Members of our military have risked their lives to defend the rights and freedoms of our Constitution, including the freedom to join together in a union for common interests,” said Larry Doggette, Business Manager of Local 572 and a veteran of the U.S. Marines. “It is disgraceful that these fundamental rights and freedoms would be denied at our nation’s military cemetery during a holiday in honor of those have lost their lives in defense of freedom.”

In May 2015, the workers voted in favor of joining together in the union to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. The workers are seeking a boost from their approximately $13 per hour pay rate. They are also seeking sick leave; currently workers have no paid sick leave.

The union and the companies reached an agreement this year on most non-economic issues, and workers presented their pay and sick leave proposal in October 2015. The employers had promised a response, but repeatedly delayed and cancelled the last negotiating session scheduled for this month.

Under a recent executive order by President Obama, up to seven days of sick leave will be required by federal contractors in 2017. However, rather than enshrining the sick leave in a contract, the employers proposed that sick leave be consistent with the order.

“It may be that they are running out the clock, hoping for new president who might rescind the executive order,” Doggette said. “But workers voted for a union, they want a contract and their rights to one should be respected.” Doggette added, “We believe we could easily reach an agreement if the employers would negotiate.” Doggette said that any strike would likely begin before the Memorial Day holiday, and absent an agreement, continue through it.

LIUNA’s Mid-Atlantic Region includes more than 40,000 workers predominantly in the construction industry in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Flickr pool photo by Jeff Reardon

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Morning Notes

Stormy sunset over Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber)

Janitors to Rally with Candidates in Ballston — About 150 part-time janitors will rally in Ballston this afternoon for a new union contract. The rally is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. in front of the National Science Foundation at 4201 Wilson Blvd. Democratic County Board candidates Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey are expected to attend the rally to lend their support, according to a press release from the 32BJ SEIU union.

Arlington Man Killed in D.C. Pedestrian Crash — An Arlington man, 31-year-old George Mina, has died several days after being struck by a car on Wisconsin Avenue NW in D.C. Mina, a pediatric phlebotomist, was struck by the driver of a Jaguar while crossing Wisconsin at Veazy Street NW on June 10. A rally for pedestrian safety was held in the area last night, with advocates calling for D.C. to implement pedestrian safety measures currently in use in Arlington. [NBC Washington]

No Opponent for Commonwealth’s Attorney — A potential independent candidate for Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney came up just a couple of verified petition signatures short of the 140 he needed to qualify for the ballot. Criminal defense attorney Frank Webb said he will drop his bid to get on the ballot. Incumbent Democrat Theo Stamos is now running unopposed. [InsideNova]

WW2 Vets Boogie at DCA — Video posted on YouTube shows a group of World War II veterans, in a Reagan National Airport terminal last month awaiting their honor flight back to Kentucky, dancing to a live rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber

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