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HomeAssociationsLabor organizations indicate opposition to Northern Virginia sports complex proposal

Labor organizations indicate opposition to Northern Virginia sports complex proposal

Washington Construction News staff writer

Influential labor groups say they are opposing efforts to move two professional sports franchises from the nation’s capital to northern Virginia, citing in part an apparent inability to reach a satisfactory deal for union workers on the construction projects, the Associated Press (AP) has reported.

Northern Virginia AFL-CIO and member unions including UNITE HERE Local 25, representing hospitality workers in the national capital region, said on Feb. 20 they could not support the proposal for a $2 billion deal that would move the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals from Washington, D.C., to Alexandria.

In a statement, Greg Akerman, president of the local Building Trades Unions, said: “Wage theft and exploitation of immigrant workers are common on construction sites in northern Virginia. The developers of this entertainment district have refused to take the necessary steps to prevent this.”

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin responded by saying that his administration and project partners had worked “in good faith” for months on negotiations that would give union workers a “substantial role” in the project. He said labor leaders had “backtracked,” and he vowed to press forward with the proposal, the AP reported.

“Virginia is a right-to-work state and unreasonable demands from union leaders will not derail this project,” Youngkin said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the General Assembly to complete this opportunity and bring $12 billion in economic contributions that will fund shared priorities in Virginia.”

The labor opposition is one hurdle for the proposed project, in part because of opposition within the Democratic-controlled Legislature, especially in the state Senate, where the governor has so far been unable to convince leaders to advance a bill underpinning the deal, the AP reported.

“The House of Delegates has passed its version of the legislation necessary for the relocation to go forward,” AP reported. “But Democratic leaders from both chambers have made clear they wanted labor’s voice heard in the negotiations over the deal, which have grown to encompass a range of unrelated Democratic priorities.”

“Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell — who sponsored his chamber’s version of the bill without fully endorsing the project — said labor’s opposition won’t make it any easier to get the legislation across the finish line. But he stopped short of saying the matter was dead and laid blame with Youngkin for the impasse, saying he’d personally been working to get this piece of the puzzle solved since before the legislative session.”

House Speaker Don Scott told The Washington Post the unions’ opposition was important.

“If they’re against it, then the arena deal is probably going to have a very difficult time,” he told the newspaper. “If it dies, it dies.”

The AFL-CIO says it tried to reach a deal with JBG Smith, the real estate developer on the Potomac Yard parcel in Alexandria where the arena would be built, and financial advisor J.P. Morgan to enter into a project labor agreement that would ensure organized labor is used to build the facility and include job protections, the published report says. “The group also sought a labor peace agreement to help ensure that workers at a proposed hotel that is part of the project would be able to unionize.”

“To date, there’s been no interest at all on the part of this developer to consider signing agreements that would protect the rights of workers,” Virginia Diamond, president of the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO, said in an interview.

JBG Smith and the teams’ parent company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, said in a joint statement that they were “disappointed and somewhat perplexed” at the AFL-CIO’s announcement but they remained open to “continued discussion with labor.”

“During near daily negotiations over the course of several months, this development partnership gave labor nearly everything it asked for including strong wages, benefits, and training commitments, as well as efforts to prevent wage theft and misclassification,” the statement said.

Mark Buckshon
Mark Buckshonhttps://washingtonconstructionnews.com
Mark Buckshon is the publisher and interim editor of Washington Construction News. He is also president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies. He combines a journalism and business background, and has published construction trade publications for more than 30 years, after an earlier career in journalism, which culminated when he lived through the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe in 1978-80 as a sub-editor for the Bulawayo Chronicle and a correspondent for a Canadian news service.

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