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Union Accuses Obama Administration, US Army of Undermining Arlington Cemetery Workers Strike for Sick Leave, Pay Increases

Arlington, Va. (Sept. 20, 2016) – A member of Congress today urged the Secretary of the Army to repair any potential harm the Army has caused to the efforts by Arlington National Cemetery workers to win sick leave and modest pay increases.  

The workers, members of LIUNA Local 572, were forced on strike August 15 after months of delays in reaching a first contract with grounds-keeping contractors. The workers are jointly employed by Greenleaf Services Inc. and Davey Commercial Ground Management.

In a letter to Army Secretary Eric Fanning, Congressman Donald S. Beyer (Virginia District 8) cited reports that as the workers’ strike was gaining traction by putting pressure on the contractors, the Army provided inappropriate assistance to the employers by relaxing deadlines the contractors had to complete projects using replacement workers.

“This is concerning as it may constitute inappropriate assistance by the government to employers in the midst of a labor dispute,” Beyer wrote. “I hope you will investigate this incident to determine whether the Army has operated inappropriately in this instance and how to best repair any potential harm done to the employees’ effort to obtain a collective bargaining agreement with the contractors.”

Since the strike began, several cemetery operations have fallen into disarray:

  • On Monday, a replacement worker struck a supervisor with a mower. The victim, identified by workers as Giovanni Flores, sustained injuries requiring medical attention.
  • Reseeding of parts of the cemetery and the installation of new sod, previously required to be complete by Sept. 18 in order to properly root prior to winter has fallen several weeks behind.
  • Mowing of areas of cemetery has not been done, resulting in overgrowth. 

The striking workers say they have been betrayed by the Obama Administration and the Army the President commands.

“We want to properly care for the cemetery out of respect for those who served our nation and out of pride in our work,” said Larry Doggett, Business Manager of Local 572, and himself a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “Granting more lenient deadlines in effect takes sides 2 in this dispute by allowing the contractors to avoid their responsibilities. The Army should be neutral and that means not cutting the contractors slack.”

Doggett added that, “Propping up employers who deny fundamental rights our armed forces have fought and died for is wrong. We call on the Obama Administration to honor the right of workers to join together for better lives by directing the Army to enforce its contractors obligations as required and not undermine the workers efforts.”

In addition to the Congressional support, the workers have won backing by members of the Arlington County Council.

Davey is based in Kent, Ohio, and touts itself as the largest tree care company with 2014 revenues of $790 million. Greenleaf is based in Delaware.

The workers voted to form a union in May 2015, seeking a boost from their average $13 an hour wage and sick leave, which they currently do not have.

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.
Copies of Congressman Beyer’s letter to Army Secretary Fanning are available.