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Notes: Labor unions join opposition to Potomac Yard arena plans

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Protestors kept away from the Potomac Yard event by a fence, Dec. 13, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

(Updated 12:30 p.m.) Virginia labor unions have come out against the Potomac Yard arena plans, saying they lack necessary labor protections for workers and other union commitments.

“Construction and hospitality jobs in the campus’ privately-owned entertainment district will be low wage jobs because the developer would not accept any labor agreements,” said Virginia Diamond, President of the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO, in a release. “Taxpayers should not make a massive investment in a project that is only going to create more low-wage jobs for local workers.”

The announcement comes at a time when the Potomac Yard arena plans already face considerable backlash, over state politics in the Virginia Senate and locally over transportation concerns.

“This is a bad deal for workers, plain and simple,” said Paul Schwalb, Executive-Secretary Treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25, in the release. “JBG Smith wants to line their pockets on the backs of Virginia workers. No thank you.”

The opposition of labor unions turned up pressure on local leaders in Alexandria. City Council member and Mayoral candidate Alyia Gaskins said the plan won’t work without the backing of labor organizations.

“I have always and will continue to stand with our workers,” Gaskins said. “This deal does not work without good jobs and enforceable protections and commitments for local workers.”

The announcement was also met with cheers from the Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard, a local group that has been fighting against arena plans since they were announced. According to a release:

Today, the workers of the DMV stood up to the billionaire owners of Monumental Sports and JBG Smith and their millionaire supporters and said ‘no.’ They said ‘no’ to an arena where good, union jobs are not protected. They said ‘no’ to a deal that does not protect immigrant workers from wage theft and exploitation. And they said ‘no’ to a bad deal for the District, Virginia and Alexandria that would enrich JBG Smith, one of the most anti-union companies in America. Governor Youngkin and leaders in the Virginia General Assembly and the City of Alexandria should use today’s announcement to acknowledge what is already obvious to citizens and workers: It’s time to call off this Monumental Mistake.

In a statement, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said:

My administration and the partners in this project have worked in good faith over the last few months to give union workers a substantial role in this project. Today, labor leadership backtracked on that progress and announced their opposition to a project that creates 30,000 jobs, including 12,000 construction-trade jobs. Virginia is a right-to-work state and unreasonable demands from union leaders will not derail this project. 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.

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