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Firefighters responding to smoke in the Ballston Metro station

Arlington County firefighters are sounding the alarm on a possible exodus from the department over stagnating wages.

IAFF Local 2800, which represents the county’s professional firefighters and paramedics, warned in a press release Monday that without an increase in pay or a hazard pay program, there could be “high turnover rates over the next year” in the department.

“We haven’t seen a true pay raise in years and no cost-of-living adjustments to keep pace with inflation,” Brian Lynch, president of the Arlington County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, in the release. “With the COVID-19 epidemic causing an increase in dangerous 911 calls over the past 18 months, we are doing more extremely hazardous work — and really getting paid less.”

The union is asking the county manager for a 6% cost-of-living pay increase, the reinstitution of a hazard pay program, and one year of earned merit increases.

The news comes one week after ARLnow reported that the police department is shrinking over salaries and burnout and as Arlington County begins deliberating its 2022-23 budget, including wages for county employees.

It also comes before Arlington’s public safety unions will be able to engage in collective bargaining with the county. The County Board voted to permit such negotiations this summer, but the first collective agreements are not expected to go into effect until the 2024 fiscal year.

Lynch tells ARLnow the fire department hasn’t reached the inflection point that the police department appears to be at quite yet, but he’s concerned it could. Over the last two years, pay for firefighters and paramedics has only increased by 1%, which doesn’t keep pace with inflation and cost-of-living increases. Consumer prices have gone up by 4.4% in the region over the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There was a short-term hazard pay program in place at the beginning of the pandemic but it only lasted ten weeks, he said, adding that the union never got an official explanation for why the program ended.

County officials didn’t tell ARLnow exactly why either, only saying that the program was “designed to mirror other neighboring jurisdictions’ public safety programs.”

Lynch says that re-instituting one now would show firefighters and paramedics that they are valued.

“[It would] be a token of respect towards the folks that are putting themselves and their families out there,” says Lynch. “We’ve always had a risk of dying, but COVID puts our families at risk.”

Without these concessions or merit increases, county firefighters could opt to go to other jurisdictions or get out of the industry altogether, he says.

“We’ve lost a few people already… and it could get worse,” Lynch said. “Historically, people never left fire departments once they got in. It’s a very competitive job and people stayed. What we’ve seen change is their willingness to go to other industries.”

While the county could fill these positions with new recruits, there’s a price to that as well. The union estimates that it costs the county more than $175,000 to train a single firefighter-paramedic.

County officials dispute the notion that firefighters are looking to leave the department. ACFD says the opposite is true, according to its data.

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Morning Notes

Road Closures for Biden Event — “The public can anticipate large crowds and increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area related to the event. The following road closures will begin at 1:00pm: Park Drive from N. George Mason Drive to 3rd Street N., 3rd Street N. from N. Park Drive to N. Columbus Street. During the event, the following closure will also be in effect: George Mason Drive from N. Carlin Springs Road to N. Henderson Road.” [Arlington County]

Mahjong Bar Coming to Pentagon City — “Lo and Bun’d Up founder Scott Chung are taking the idea of post-dinner games one step further for their next business venture: Sparrow Room, a mahjong parlor and speakeasy-style dim sum bar tucked away behind Bun’d Up at Pentagon Row. During the day, patrons order Taiwanese-style gua bao stuffed with fried chicken or bulgogi beef at the fast-casual restaurant. Come evening, they can head to the dimly-lit, 42-seat bar for mahjong games, cocktails, and dim sum-style fare.” [Washingtonian]

In-Person Speakers Outnumber Virtual — “Two months after the Arlington County Board resumed in-person meetings, it appears members of the public are more comfortable showing up to voice their opinions. Of the 18 people signed up for the County Board’s July 17 ‘citizen comment’ portion kicking off the meeting, 13 were in-person speakers, the remainder checking in via Internet.” [Sun Gazette]

Fire Union Asks for Recognition — From the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, following the County Board authorizing collective bargaining with employee groups: “Start the collective bargaining process. We have petitioned the county to recognize us as the union representing all firefighters and paramedics in Arlington.” [Press Release, Twitter]

Flights Still Down at DCA — “The number of scheduled outbound passenger flights departing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the third quarter of 2021 is expected to be down 35 percent from the same period in 2019 – among the biggest sustained downturns in the nation, but still a sign of incremental progress.” [Sun Gazette]

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Pro-union county employees attend the in-person County Board meeting held on Saturday (via Arlington County)

For the first time since the 1970s, municipal employees in Arlington will be join unions and negotiate employment conditions.

The Arlington County Board restored collective bargaining with its unanimous approval of revision to county code during its meeting on Saturday. The county will soon allow employee associations to enter into collective bargaining with the county over compensation, benefits, working conditions and other issues.

The change responds to a state law passed by the General Assembly in 2020 that went into effect in May.

“Elections have consequences,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “We would not have this authority if we did not change the legislature in 2019. Let’s not let other people speak for us. We know that in any community, and in the United States, many already have a voice, but making sure that you have a voice — and it’s a majority voice — is critical.”

The first collective bargaining agreements are expected to go into effect in the 2024 fiscal year. Approximately two-thirds of county employees will be eligible to join one of five collective bargaining units in the ordinance.

These five units are police; fire and emergency medical services; service, labor and trades; office and technical; and professional employees.

Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol said she would like to see the decision for public employees ripple into the private sector.

“I challenge the General Assembly to tackle with the same alacrity they took on collective bargaining some of the anti-union provisions that still govern the private sector here in Virginia,” she said, which received applause from attending meeting members.

She reiterated her support for the move on Twitter.

But not everyone is enthused with the changes. Collective bargaining could result in tax increases for Arlington residents, opined Mark Kelly, a opinion columnist on ARLnow.

“Constraining our county budget with an unfavorable labor contract is not only a lazy way to address compensation, it can cause other long term issues,” he wrote in a recent column. “One only has to look at the financial troubles of Metro to understand just how quickly maintenance and other needs can get pushed aside as personnel costs grow out of control under a labor agreement.”

With a second unanimous vote, the Board adopted a policy that will increase wages for tradespeople working on government-contracted projects. The change follows passage of a state law giving local governments the option to implement prevailing wage programs for public works contracts exceeding $250,000.

The new policy applies to contracts solicited on or after Oct. 1 of this year.

“This proposed program design is intended to serve as an initial phase, which would be revisited in the future based on the County’s learned experience and anticipated clarification to the State’s enabling legislation,” the county’s press release said.

Like the issue of collective bargaining, Kelly said this decision will also burden taxpayers, who will not enjoy more public amenities in return.

“Over the course of a 10 year capital improvement plan, the increased costs will approach $100 million,” he said. “By way of comparison, this is equivalent to a new high school building or two aquatics centers. But taxpayers will not get new buildings or other infrastructure in return.”

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The County Board will consider tomorrow whether to advertise public hearings for two amendments that could impact labor negotiations and wages.

One will determine whether the county code should allow employee associations to enter into collective bargaining with the county over compensation, benefits, working conditions and other issues. The other would add prevailing wage provisions — increasing compensation for construction workers — for contracts of $1.5 million or more, starting this October.

Both of these changes respond to state laws passed by the General Assembly in 2020 and went into effect last month. One law allows municipal employees to join unions and negotiate employment conditions for the first time since the 1970s. The other gives local governments the option to implement prevailing wage programs for public works contracts exceeding $250,000.

Collective bargaining is slated to go first on Saturday.

“Consistent with Arlington’s values, the proposal to allow employees to organize and collectively bargain in good faith is intended to promote constructive relationships between the County and its employees,” a county report said.

The county anticipates that the initial collective bargaining agreements will go into effect in the 2023-24 fiscal year. Nearly 2,540 employees are eligible to join one of five collective bargaining units proposed in the ordinance.

These five units are police; fire and emergency medical services; service, labor and trades; office, professional and technical; and general government.

Some employee associations representing these categories already exist, but “the advent of collective bargaining will offer employees the choice to more formally organize their views through professional representatives,” the report said. Currently, associations for employees like police officers and firefighters are limited to publicly advocating for raises and other changes, as opposed to being able to directly negotiate with county officials.

This ordinance also would determine what topics are on- and off-limits for negotiation.

“While the County and the employee associations have reached consensus for the bulk of the ordinance, there remains a difference of approach on a few key areas, particularly focused on the scope of bargaining and how disagreements would be resolved,” the report said.

For example, Schwartz and unions disagree over how much of the process for challenging disciplinary actions can be negotiated.

About 1,590 employees — including managers and supervisors and temporary employees — are ineligible.

According to the report, the county budgeted $350,000 for legal services and a new position for the first phase of implementation, as more staff were needed to write contracts and determine bargaining units. But the county anticipates “substantial additional resources will be needed” beyond that.

It cited the City of Alexandria, which is spending $850,000 on the first phase, and Loudoun County, which has estimated it will need $1.4 million to get started.

In Arlington, the collective bargaining measure is supported at least by County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti and Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, according to Blue Virginia.

Next, the Board is set to consider a policy that would possibly increase wages for tradespeople working on government-contracted projects.

“Prevailing wage policies are founded on the idea that public contracts should not decrease the average wage rates for construction laborers and tradespeople in a locality but should either maintain the average or improve it,” according to a county report. “In areas where racial and gender pay and benefit gaps exist, prevailing wage policies can also help close these gaps.”

Some — but not all — workers can expect a boost in their pay from the new policy.

“Certain labor classes will see improvement while others are unlikely to be impacted,” the report said.

The policy will come with a cost, in the form of making construction more expensive.

“The standard assumption in the construction industry is that prevailing wage policies add approximately 15% to construction contract costs, although actual impacts can vary depending on the region, the type of construction, and percentage of the labor component of the specific contract,” the report to the County Board says. “Staff expects the actual impact in the Northern Virginia construction market to be less than this given the level of competition and the influence of existing prevailing wage policies in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.”

“If these contract costs increased by 5-10% that could mean additional construction costs of $3 million to $6 million each year and could require reprioritization of the capital program,” the report said. “Staff will carefully study these impacts and will adjust future cost estimates and capital plans accordingly.”

Both ordinances would be scheduled for public hearings and possible adoption on July 17.

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Fulfilling a long-delayed promise, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey dropped off a cashier’s check for $10,000 to the headquarters of the Amalgamated Transit Union International yesterday.

The action is, one would assume, the last chapter in the saga of a political donation that caused Dorsey to lose his seat on the WMATA Board and lose the trust of some of his constituents in Arlington.

Dorsey was ordered by the WMATA Board to return the $10,000 political donation to his Christian Dorsey for County Board political committee due to a conflict of interest — between his role in helping to run the transit agency and his acceptance of a donation from its largest labor union. He also faced ethics scrutiny for not disclosing the donation for four months.

Dorsey resigned from the WMATA Board in February after failing to return the donation; at the time, he did not have sufficient funds in his campaign account to do so. Most of Dorsey’s campaign cash in 2019 went to himself and his wife, in the form of loan repayments and payments for campaign services, respectively.

Dorsey filed for personal bankruptcy in October 2019. The bankruptcy case was still active in federal court as of last week.

Friends helped to raise additional campaign funds for Dorsey in February and March, despite him not being up for reelection until 2023. In addition to donations from fellow elected officials and from individuals, Dorsey accepted $1,000 from the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and $2,000 from Steamfitters Local Union #602.

Dorsey wrote a $10,000 check dated Feb. 24, 2020 and sent it to ATU International but, according to reporting by the Washington Post last week, the check was somehow lost when it was sent from the union to the bank.

In response to subsequent inquiries from ARLnow, Dorsey said on Thursday that he had dropped off a cashier’s check drawn from his campaign account. He provided a photo of the check, and ATU International spokesman David Roscow confirmed that it had been received.

“I’d like for this saga to be closed as well, and will cooperate as necessary to do so,” Dorsey told ARLnow earlier in the week, though he added that he saw it as closed “at least as it pertains to my responsibility in the matter.”

“My promise was to return the contribution, which I did, as evidenced through the certified mail receipt and acknowledgment by ATU in February/March,” he said. “That they didn’t process it is a matter I cannot speak to, nor can I reasonably be held responsible for.”

According to the Virginia Dept. of Elections website, Dorsey’s campaign initially submitted a campaign finance report on July 15 that did not include the February return of the donation. That report was amended on July 19, to include the $10,000 check as an expenditure. The Post reported on July 23 that the check was never cashed.

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Hundreds of union members are expected to participate in a caravan from Ballston to the U.S. Capitol around lunchtime Wednesday.

The Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice is being organized by a number of major labor organizations. Participants will be gathering at the Ballston public parking garage at 627 N. Glebe Road — plus a second staging site in Silver Spring, Maryland — to affix signs to their vehicles. At 11:45 a.m., they will drive to and circle the Capitol building in D.C.

“More than one thousand union members will travel to Washington, D.C. for the Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice, the headline event of a massive national mobilization with hundreds of actions calling for bold policies to confront the three crises facing America: a public health pandemic, an economic free fall and long-standing structural racism,” organizers said in a statement.

“Representing those employed in health care, public education, public service, hospitality and more, workers will call on lawmakers to act now to save our nation, save our economy and save workers’ lives,” the statement continues. “The Workers First Caravan is organized by AFSCME, AFT, IUPAT, IBT, UFCW, UNITE HERE and the AFL-CIO.”

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Morning Notes

Fire Union Raises Alarm About Lack of Quarantining — “An Arlington County firefighter tested positive for coronavirus this week and the union is concerned that colleagues were not told to quarantine.” [NBC 4]

The Toll for First Responders During the Outbreak — “We are starting to see the mental and physical toll that this pandemic is having on our members and their families. Please continue to practice social distancing and listen to the local leaders.” [Twitter]

Signs of Support From the Community — Signs and other expressions of appreciation for first responders have been popping up around Arlington, as have signs urging continued social distancing. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]

GMU Prof Trying to Spur Coronavirus Solutions — “George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen hopes to incentivize a stronger response to the coronavirus by distributing more than $1 million in prizes for research leading to immediate help in fighting the pandemic.” [George Mason University]

Beyer Supports Relief Bill — Said Rep. Don Beyer, regarding the record 3.3 million new unemployment claims: “These numbers are far worse than anything we saw during the Great Recession. We need to move quickly to help those that are getting hurt… That is why the bill passed by the Senate to increase unemployment insurance by an extra $600 a week for four months and make billions available for small business grants and loan payments is so important.” [House of Representatives]

Local Testing is Taking a Long Time — “An Arlington, Virginia, resident told Axios he got tested a week ago, but his results have now been delayed twice; he’ll likely end up waiting nine to 10 days for his results.” [Axios]

Ambar Offering Family-Style Meals to Go — “Street Guys Hospitality, renowned for its neighborhood restaurants that offer set price, next-level Balkan & Mexican dining without limits, is stepping up with a plan to help feed the communities it serves while supporting its staff members during this crisis.” [Press Release]

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Morning Notes

Transit Union Gets Its Money Back from Dorsey — “Union verifies (to me, 5 minutes ago) that it has received [embattled County Board member Christian Dorsey’s] repayment of $10,000 campaign donation.” [Twitter]

Board Advances Reeves Farmhouse Plan — “The [Reeves] farmhouse will be preserved and protected as a historic site, the parkland around the house will stay as parkland, and the County will get much needed housing for people with developmental disabilities without our taxpayers footing the bill. It’s a win-win-win.” [Arlington County]

Va. Legislature OKs Amazon Delivery Bots — “Amazon.com Inc. package delivery robots could soon hit Virginia’s sidewalks and roadways. The General Assembly has made quick work of a bill that would clear the way for Scout, Amazon’s six-wheeled delivery robot, to operate in the commonwealth.” [Washington Business Journal]

Airport Helper Service to Launch Tomorrow — “Goodbye, airport chaos… SkySquad is launching this week at Reagan Airport to improve the airport experience for anyone who needs an extra hand. Travel is stressful for most people, especially families with young kids; and senior citizens who need extra support.” [Press Release]

A Look at Arlington’s Oldest Families — A series of articles profiling long-time local families takes a look at the Parks, the Shreves, the Smiths, the Syphaxes, the Birches and the Thomases. [Arlington Magazine]

Sheriff’s Office Welcomes New K-9 — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office recently welcomed its newest K-9 officer – Logan, a one-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador retriever who is paired with handler Cpl. Matthew Camardi. The duo will work in narcotics detection and other specialized fields. [InsideNova]

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(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) Arlington County Board member and now-former Metro board member Christian Dorsey cruised to easy election victories in 2019 and thus didn’t need to spend much on his campaign. He did, however, direct campaign cash to himself and his wife.

Dorsey, who is currently trying to resolve a personal bankruptcy, is not accused of wrongdoing in his campaign spending. But it does raise questions amid news that he has not yet fulfilled a promise to repay a $10,000 campaign contribution, deemed unethical by the Metro board after Dorsey failed to notify the board of the donation in a timely manner.

Dorsey has since resigned from the Metro board, the Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon.

It was just after the Nov. 2019 election that it was revealed that Dorsey had declared bankruptcy in October. He told ARLnow in December that he regretted not informing the community earlier.

The campaign was otherwise a breeze for Dorsey. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and easily defeated a pair of independent candidates, who sought his and fellow incumbent Board member Katie Cristol’s seats, in November.

Dorsey raised nearly $40,000 in 2019, including the aforementioned $10,000 from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 — Metro’s largest union — as well as $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $5,000 from a carpenters union, and $1,000 from a laborers union.

As of Dec. 31, according to Dorsey’s latest campaign finance report, his campaign had $3,298 on hand. So where did most of the cash go? Just over $25,000 went to Dorsey and his wife, documents show.

Dorsey began 2019 with a balance of $17,547 on loans he had provided his campaign during the 2015 election. He repaid all but $200.99 of that to himself by the end of the year. He also paid $8,000 to his wife over the summer for campaign management graphic design work.

There has thus far been no suggestion that any of the payments were in any way illegal or improper, though a nearly $2,000 loan repayment was made after Dorsey was ordered to return the transit union donation.

The campaign’s other major expenses were $4,825 in donations and sponsorships to the Arlington County Democratic Committee and $4,399 to a local printing company for yard signs and grip cards, paid in September. Fundraising and web hosting expenses, along with other donations and food and drink purchases for events and volunteers, made up much of the remaining expenses.

Prof. Jennifer Victor, who researches campaign finance at George Mason University’s Schar School Policy and Government, said the pattern of payments amid personal financial problems and the union donation controversy at Metro at the very least “raises some ethical eyebrows,” regardless of whether or not state campaign finance laws were violated. Victor added that hiring a spouse for the campaign “looks nepotistic” and is something most candidates would avoid doing.

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Morning Notes

Dorsey Hasn’t Returned Union Donation — Arlington County Board and WMATA board member Christian Dorsey, “who promised three months ago to repay a $10,000 campaign donation that violated the board’s ethics policy, has not yet refunded the money and is likely to be replaced as Virginia’s representative on the regional board. Dorsey said Wednesday that he is working on a wire transfer to return the money to a transit union that routinely negotiates with Metro.” [Washington Post]

Beyer Slams Impeachment Trial — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) issued the following statement… ‘Today Senate Republicans ended their impeachment show trial. It will go down as one of the most craven events in American history.'” [Press Release]

County Board Race Fundraising Update — “The two Democrats vying for Arlington County Board entered 2020 with roughly the same amount of cash on hand, according to figures from the Virginia Department of Elections. Incumbent Libby Garvey had $16,823 in her campaign kitty as of Dec. 31, while challenger Chanda Choun had $16,155, according to data reported after the Jan. 15 filing deadline.” [InsideNova]

West Glebe Road Bridge Open House — “The deteriorating West Glebe Road Bridge, on the Arlington border near I-395, will be the topic of an open house next week. The bridge is currently closed to large vehicles weighing more than 5 tons due to structural deficiencies. It’s set for a major rehabilitation project, likely starting later this year.” [ALXnow]

Forum to Discuss Repealing Second Amendment — “Encore Learning will present a forum on ‘Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for a Safer America’ on Monday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. at Central Library. The speaker, American University professor Allan Lichtman, will discuss his perspectives on gun safety and will argue for national legislation and the potential revision of the U.S. Constitution.” [InsideNova]

Dirt Closes Restaurants in Miami, Too — “On Thursday at 11 p.m., employees were told via a text message from DIRT Regional Director of Operations Aaron Licardo that both the Sunset Harbour and Brickell locations were closing for good. The two Miami spots closed on the heels of the Virginia location shuttering; that restaurant, located in Ballston, lasted less than a year. The message employees received claimed the company ‘found no other way to keep these locations open.'” [Miami Herald]

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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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