Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Pass Me the Napkin, Please. I Need to Write an Appeal.

Carrie Roth, VEC Commissioner. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Youngkin administration has come up with a new way to deal with the backlog of appeals filed with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC): reduce the amount of time claimants and employers have to file an appeal to the agency’s decision.

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a House subcommittee has acted favorably on HB 1639, introduced by Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, at the request of the administration. The bill would give claimants and employers 15 days instead of 30 to appeal decisions on claims for unemployment insurances, as well as to ask for a review of an initial appeal ruling.

The administration and the bill’s proponents contend that the bill would make the process more efficient. “The impetus behind this is to make sure we give them a very timely final decision in an expedited fashion,” VEC Commissioner Carrie Roth told the subcommittee.

In reply to Democrats’ concerns that people who might want to appeal could be “disenfranchised,” Roth replied that filing an appeal is not difficult. Apparently inspired by Arthur Laffer, she said, ““You can write it on a napkin and we will accept that appeal.”

Appeals filed on napkins would certainly enable the VEC to speed up the process of reviewing appeals.

The Box and the Snowball

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a box, and there’s a snowball.

The box is the support of the Bluestone Town Center. It is a well-constructed but beautifully decorated box, built on strong buzzwords. Affordable Housing, and Climate Change, and Dense Development are the shiny wrapping on this gift. The snowball of opposition rolling toward City Hall grows each time a post on social media begins, “I didn’t realize ….” Didn’t realize how big it is, how much traffic, how much impact on the schools, how far from the center of town it is.

The box is being built purposefully. Proponents on the Planning Commission and City Council who have not yet heard the presentation of pros and cons are publicly and privately adding items to the box. Their box is a container for their support of the project, and they will only add those things that bolster their case.

The snowball is built on surprise. With local journalism struggling, people find out in bits and pieces how large the thing is, how many cars and students it will add, how badly proponents have considered flooding, runoff, and blasting.

The box includes support that’s at best half-hearted from city staff. The recommendation from the Community Development staff reads less like approval and more like, “Well, we guess it’s OK.” The City Attorney outlines why the offers to mitigate school impact are illegal under current law and an administrative nightmare if the city changes the law to accommodate them.

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and the tax specialists will open their box at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, where they will explain how this is the greatest thing since the golf course. The snowball of citizens will attempt to deliver death by a thousand cuts. They don’t have the staff, they don’t have the legal help, and they don’t have elected and appointed officials who’ve already made up their minds. They only have the spirit of those who have throughout our history stood up and told their government it’s wrong.

Opponents have already been described in whispers as NIMBYs, or “not in my back yard.” I live two miles away, so it’s hardly in my back yard. But what if it were? Rezoning requests like this one are required to inform neighbors. The whole idea of zoning is to regulate what is built next to what. Homeowners’ defense of their surroundings should not be subordinate to what a planning commission or HRHA chair thinks is best for them and their neighbors.

As this proposal goes forward, I hope elected and appointed officials will remember that they serve the entire city and not just the preferences of a vocal political minority. For the people we elect and the people they appoint, the whole city is supposed to be their back yard.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.

Things Fall Apart: Workforce Edition

by James A. Bacon

A friend of mine, a Richmond-area attorney, received this message from his accountant explaining the increasingly difficult conditions in which his business was operating:

Increasingly, we’ve experienced extreme disruption with our US Postal Service as well as the handling of payments by government agencies, regardless if they have confirmed delivery. This has caused unwanted computer-generated notices and unwarranted penalties and interest. The Virginia Department of Taxation has also recognized this issue and has announced that all tax payments above $1,500 MUST be made electronically.

Pre-COVID, I bemoaned the increased complexity of our information systems and the glitches that result from their imperfect interoperability. Now add to that the labor shortage — not just the shortage of workers with the necessary technical skills but with the right attitudes. After a generation of setting lower expectations, demanding less precision and exactitude, and excusing failure and mediocrity to spare children’s tender feelings, we have created a generation of young people who are sloppier and more careless than their predecessors.

The other day, I encountered a young woman behind the cash register who had trouble making change for a dollar. I’d never seen that before. Ever.

The problems experienced by my friend are murder on workforce productivity. We all suffer from it, even if we don’t see what is in plain sight. Continue reading

Factoid of the Day: It Still Pays to Work in Virginia

In three states — Washington, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — a family of four can earn more than $100,000 annually in equivalent government benefits, according to a study, “Paying Americans Not to Work,” published by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. The earned income equivalent for the state of Washington is a mind-boggling $122,653 a year, or $31 hourly wage equivalent for both parents working.

For a family of two parents and two dependent minor children, 14 states pay benefits that potentially exceed median wages earned by school teachers, machinists, electricians and truckers.

Virginians who believe in reinforcing the work ethic can take some consolation that the Old Dominion is pretty far down the list — 36th. Maximum potential benefits amount to $57,744, the equivalent to paying $15 an hour. That’s less than school teachers, building inspectors, electricians, firefighters, truck drivers, and machinists make — more than retail associates.

— JAB

Workforce Development: Wrestling with the Alligator

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin wants to consolidate the plethora of Virginia’s workforce development programs spread across 13 agencies and six secretariats, according to Virginia Public Media. Not only do these programs consume $485 million in federal and state funding but there are a bewildering 1,500 of them.

I find that number so astonishing as to be unbelievable. The Richmond Times-Dispatch counts programs over 12 state agencies. Whatever the actual number — and the inability to pin it down precisely is indicative of how dysfunctional the system is — workforce development in Virginia is highly fractured.

The system is fragmented in part because many programs are funded as the result of state and federal legislation with narrow goals that target narrow groups or because they dole out funds to satisfy diverse geographic constituencies. Many programs run on autopilot. No one measures outcomes. No one measures effectiveness. No one re-evaluates them.

Redrawing organization charts and appointing a new boss to oversee the bureaucratic labyrinth won’t accomplish much. But Youngkin has more in mind.

“A bloated, disparate construct that has workforce programs spread all over the place, and none of what you’re measured for effectiveness, is the antithesis to what I believe government should be doing,” he said. “We can be efficient and we can be effective. I think it should run much more like a business, and that’s what we’re gonna go do.” Continue reading

Afghan Immigrants and Their Children in Virginia – Part 1

Courtesy of Virginia Department of Social Services

by James C. Sherlock

The flow of Afghan refugees into Virginia has been at a much higher volume than is generally appreciated.

I have data on Virginia resettlements of Afghanis from 2016 through the middle of 2021, when the total was 8,560.

The current total is far higher as a result of the Kabul airlift. A government survey reports that 41,000 of that group admitted to the U.S. settled in Texas, California and Virginia.

A significant majority of the Afghanis admitted between 2016 and the middle of 2021 have been granted Special Immigrant Visas and are lawful permanent residents.

Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) have been issued to those who took significant risks to support our military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan, were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government or our coalition forces in Afghanistan, or are a family member of someone who did.

I think I speak for all Virginians when I welcome them and thank them for their service.

I have embarked on an effort to understand the numbers and impact of those refugees on our institutions, especially our public schools.

And our impact on them. Continue reading

The Commissars of Charlottesville

Leon Trotsky, People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, 1918

by James C. Sherlock

Leon Trotsky, who headed the Red Army from 1917-22, did not trust it.

On 6 April 1918, he wrote in Isvestia:

The military commissar is the direct political agent of Soviet power within the army. His post is of the highest importance. Commissars are appointed from the ranks of exemplary revolutionaries, capable of remaining the embodiments of revolutionary duty at the most critical moments and under the most difficult circumstances…. The military commissar ensures that the army does not become isolated from the Soviet system as a whole and that individual military institutions do not become breeding grounds for conspiracy.

With commissars at every level of the army, they had their own reporting chain independent of the operational chain of command. And punishments both quick and much to be feared.

Progressives, themselves unwilling to entrust the revolution to those who may subvert it, are fond of similar structures.

Witness the broad and deep Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) system at the University of Virginia. Continue reading

Internships and Upward Mobility

by James A. Bacon

From time immemorial, it has been a priority of Virginia governors of both parties to promote workforce development through community college, job training programs, apprenticeships, and the like. An under-utilized strategy, suggests Beyond Academy, is college internships.

Beyond Academy, which markets international internship programs, has published a report ranking the 50 states by the percentage of college alumni who had internships. Gaining practical workforce experience before graduating gives a significant leg up in career advancement, the company contends.

The study draws data from 43 million LinkedIn profiles. Nationally, around 13% of college graduates list internships in their professional background. The rate varies from state to state: a high of 20% in Rhode Island and a low of 8% in Alaska. State outcomes hinge largely upon the success of its colleges and universities in placing their students as interns. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, has a 32% internship rate, while the University of Phoenix has only 1%.

Virginia fares slightly better than the national average with 14%, enough to rank it 15th in the country. But there appears to be room for improvement. Here follows a breakdown for the Virginia higher-ed institutions listed in the survey: Continue reading

Virginia Drops from A+ to C in Worker Freedom — Largest Decrease in the Country

Nao credit: Commonwealth Foundation “50 State Labor Report”

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

Virginia’s ranking fell more than any other state in the Commonwealth Foundation’s 50 State Labor Report “The Battle for Worker Freedom in the States: Grading State Labor Laws.”

Virginia plunged from an “A+” ranking in 2019 to a dismal “C” this year. This was due to what the report called “[t]he most dramatic government union victory of the post-Janus legal frontier” – Janus being the 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME declaring everything government unions do is political, and public employees have a First Amendment right not to subsidize this political activity. It essentially brought right-to-work provisions to public employees across the country.

As the report noted “Three states experienced major grade changes since our 2019 report. Virginia dropped from “A+” to “C” for instituting collective bargaining, while Arkansas jumped from “C” to “A+” for banning it. Missouri’s comprehensive labor reforms were officially struck down, moving the state back down from “B” to “C.” Continue reading

Opioid Epidemic Costs Virginians $3.5 Billion a Year

Over and above the lives it has destroyed, the opioid epidemic cost Virginia’s economy about $3.5 billion in 2020, according to data published by the Virginia Department of Health. The major costs calculated include lost labor, health care and crime.

Mapping the costs by locality, the database shows per-capita costs ranging from $132 in Falls Church and $152 in Highland County to $971 in Petersburg and $954 in Richmond.  One trend that stands out is how the highest cost of crime is concentrated in the Richmond region and counties to the southwest, and to a lesser degree in the state’s Tidewater region. The maps below show the breakdown by locality and cost category. –JAB Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Special Societal Dysfunction Edition

Parents can’t be trusted. Childhood gender dysphoria diagnoses leaped 70% from 2020 to 2021. More than 40,000 children received the diagnosis nationally in 2021, up from 15,000 in 2017, reports Reuters, citing a Komodo Health Inc. analysis. The number of children on puberty blockers more than doubled between 2017 to 2021 to more than 5,000 — 1,390 cases added last year alone. Against this backdrop, Charlottesville City Schools has declared its opposition to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s transgender guidelines for public schools that would give parents the power to decide the names, pronouns, restrooms and locker rooms their children use.

Can you say, “lower standards”? Ninety-two percent of Virginia’s public high school students graduated in 2022. That’s a tad higher than the pre-COVID graduation rate of 91.5 for the Class of 2019 — even though high school students in 2022 suffered massive learning loss during the pandemic and consistently under-performed the Class of 2019 students in their Standards of Learning test scores.

No, wait, don’t kill all the lawyers. We still need some. Facing high caseloads and a “dwindling staff,” reports the News & Advance, the Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney has made the decision not to participate in the prosecution of some misdemeanors. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison said the number of attorneys is 27% shy of what it should be. If police want to prosecute trespassing, drunk in public, altered license plates, or driving with a suspended license as standalone charges, they will have to handle the cases themselves. Unfortunately, the police department is suffering a labor shortage, too — with 28 vacancies reported in the fall of 2021. Continue reading

Virginia as Tech Worker Paradise?

There is good news and bad news in a recent ranking of the best places in the U.S. “to work in tech” by Zurich, Switzerland-based SmallPDF, a company that converts PDF files to Word files.

The good news is that Virginia ranks at the top of the list. From the press release:

The research found “that Virginia is the best state to work in tech right now due to high average wages in the Computer and Mathematical Occupations field with $110,510 a year, 58.44 employed in the field per 1,000 jobs, and the highest current tech vacancies with 128.97 openings per 100,000 people in the industry.”

“When measuring the average salary against the average annual rent spend, those employed in the field would only be spending 21.68% of their salary on rent. Those wanting to work in tech remotely also have lots of options, with 27,563 remote openings available at the time of the study.”

The bad news is that Virginia stands out as having more tech vacancies per 100,000 people by far than the other top 10 states. A high level of tech vacancies may be advantageous to the workers, but it’s a restraint on economic growth generally.

Why the high level of vacancies? Continue reading

Taking on Workforce Development — Again

Regional Center for Workforce Education and Training, Woodbridge Campus, Northern Virginia Community College,

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) reports that Governor Glenn Youngkin plans to present a major restructuring of Virginia’s workforce development efforts to the 2023 General Assembly. I commend the Governor for taking this issue on. It is the sort of “good government” initiative that needs to be done, but requires a lot of work for which there is little political payback, even if it is successful.

“Workforce development” is a broad term. From one perspective, one of the primary functions of all the public education programs supported by the state from kindergarten through graduate school is to provide Virginians the skills and knowledge they will need to enter the workforce. However, in the context being discussed in this article, the term refers to smaller, specifically targeted programs.

These programs are spread throughout state government in a myriad of agencies. The RTD article describes it as spanning “12 state agencies and 20 outside groups and some 800 programs.” The existence of local workforce investment boards and the availability of federal funding adds to the complexity. Another complicating factor is the activity of some state agencies in this area that is likely not included in the traditional list of workforce development programs. Continue reading

Status of Public Employee Collective Bargaining

Public sector workers organize in Loudoun. (Service Employees International Union)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Mercury has performed a service by compiling a list of the status of public employee bargaining in the Commonwealth.

So far, eight jurisdictions have adopted ordinances authorizing collective bargaining agreements. There is activity in another six localities.  “Activity” is defined as campaigns advocating collective bargaining agreements or local government officials drafting such agreements.  One locality has rejected collective bargaining.  Continue reading

Why Not Virginia for Semiconductor Manufacturing Expansion?

Virginia Engineering Programs

by James C. Sherlock

Among the things that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made clear is the vulnerability of Taiwan and with it, the access of the U.S. economy to the 90% of advanced computer chips manufactured there.

The national security requirement for domestic chip manufacturing brings opportunity. It is the nation’s most urgent manufacturing priority. So, why not build the needed plants in Virginia? Is the Commonwealth organized to attract those investments?

For the answer to the last question I looked at the Virginia Department of Commerce and Industry, the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and Virginia’s engineering schools and found nothing to suggest Virginia is making an organized effort.

Much of Virginia’s headline effort in engineering education is to expand opportunities for Amazon workers in Northern Virginia.

I suggest Virginia focus its Department of Commerce and Trade on chip manufacturing, create dedicated educational consortiums, identify available facilities and workforces like those of the shuttered Rolls Royce plant in Prince George County and offer tax abatement packages to actively recruit semiconductor manufacture. Continue reading