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Rail union negotiates more terms; some workers still disappointed

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RICHMOND, Va. – Rail workers in a union with Virginia members reached a second tentative agreement with railroad corporations days ahead of another planned strike, though some members said they are still not happy with the new terms.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19, or IAM District 19, rejected the initial tentative agreement made between President Joe Biden’s administration, labor unions, and top railroad corporations, including CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern.

The initial agreement included pay raises, better health care, and an additional personal day of leave, according to an IAM District 19 press release. The negotiations helped stop a mid-September rail strike that would have shut down passenger and freight rail.

The new tentative agreement outlines additional benefits like health care cost caps, travel reimbursement and single room occupancy, and a study on overtime pay, according to IAM District 19.


According to the union’s website, IAM District 19 represents 92 chapter unions across the U.S. and Canada, including one in Richmond.

According to a statistic from the National Railway Labor Conference, 12 unions represent about 125,000 rail workers, and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee represents more than 30 railroads in the U.S..

IAM District 19 members will still need to vote on the most recent agreement, which also includes the terms negotiated earlier this month, according to Eric Peters, a member of the union and a CSX roadway mechanic.

According to Peters, some workers are still upset that this recent round of negotiations did not resolve the lack of sick days and days off, the request to accrue vacation time faster, and the overall feeling of not being recognized as hard workers.

Some of the terms in the new agreement have already existed, like the solo hotel room occupancy during travel, just not in writing, Peters said. “Mechanics have had that for 20 years for CSX.”

Rail workers are still pushing for more time off, although the agreements would mean “a healthy pay raise,” according to Peters. Workers would see a 24% general wage increase with a $5,000 service recognition bonus, according to the IAM District 19 press release. This includes retroactive pay up to almost $12,000 within 60 days of the agreement ratification date.

According to Peters, train conductors get about one day off a month when they aren’t on call.

“The rest of the time, they’re on a two-hour recall,” Peters said. “If they don’t make it, they get in trouble, and that’s not a positive way to live.”

Rail workers receive about three weeks of paid vacation, and senior workers receive about five weeks on average, according to the Association of American Railroads, or AAR. Sick-time policies and routine medical care are pressing issues, but additional sick time was not implemented during the union negotiations.

Rail carriers offer a “federal sickness benefit program” to workers under existing agreements, while the new agreements recognize time-off for routine and preventative medical care, according to the National Railway Labor Conference, or NRLC, which represents railroads.

“I have no sick days at all,” Peters said, who said he has worked for the company for approximately 12 years.

Peters feels like the new tentative agreement still does not address these concerns.

Peters said that rail companies need to catch up to the rest of society and offer better benefits.

According to Peters, IAM District 19 originally planned to strike on Sept. 29 if additional negotiations were not met. Workers are now in a “cooling off” period that expires Dec. 9. They cannot strike until that date. Peters said some members are not happy leadership agreed to the additional cooling-off period.

“The members feel like they voted to strike, they waited their time, and they should have been given the opportunity to strike and to use their voice,” Peters said.

Workers have waited three years to strike, he said.

“We were prepared and ready and have been waiting a long time for our voices to be heard,” Peters said.

Once the member’s votes are finalized, it will dictate whether IAM District 19 accepts or rejects the new terms.

According to Madison Butler, communications manager for the Rail Passengers Association, national rail companies are being blamed for the poor working conditions that push workers to the extremes of organized strikes. According to its mission statement, the association advocates for more rail services and quicker rides for passengers.

“There are fundamental rights that these workers should have, and given the profit margins that these [Class 1 freight] companies take home, there’s no reason not to return that to the workers,” Butler said.

Cliff Dunn is co-chair of Virginians for High-Speed Rail and a frequent train rider. Corporations cutting jobs by the thousands have led to a decrease in working conditions, Dunn said.

“In some ways, the bad working conditions themselves are a symptom of the head-count [attendance] problem,” Dunn said.

The Railway Labor Act was drafted in 1926 to allow workers to collectively bargain to fix labor issues and help ensure the continued transport of goods, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, the overseeing agency.

According to Dunn, freight railroads across the country started to shut down a day before the planned Sept. 16 strike.

“If everybody goes on a strike, they don’t want to have a bunch of freight trains going dead in the middle of nowhere,” Dunn said.

Amtrak, a national passenger railroad company that shares freight rail tracks along some routes, preemptively canceled all long-distance passenger trips prior to the tentative agreement, according to a media statement from Amtrak media spokesperson Kimberly Woods.

Butler said the Sept. 16 strike could have affected over 19 million rail travelers.

The first tentative agreement was nearly three years in the making and involved two major unions in the country: the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division.

All unions are expected to ratify or reject the negotiated terms in the next few months, according to the NRLC.

 

By Adrianna Lawrence
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Separation of Virginia history standards and curriculum causes questions

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The history and social science standards are at the center of conversation for the education community in Virginia. (Mechelle Hankerson/ Virginia Mercury)

 

As communities and experts review Virginia’s K-12 history and social science standards, many anxiously await its companion guide, the curriculum framework.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow last month told the Board of Education that she decided to decouple the curriculum framework from the draft history and social science standards because the combination led to “vague” and “confusing information” for general public consumption.

“In the last few years, especially since school closures, the standards document has become much more front and center as a document that parents rely on and that community members rely on as a public and digestible and understandable document that says this is what’s being taught at which grade level and to what depth,” she said. “And a 400-plus page document plus framework does not accomplish that goal. It is not easily understandable for the public.”


But as the standards proposed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration went before the board in a contentious, nearly eight-hour-long meeting earlier this month, the absence of the curriculum framework sparked criticism and uncertainty because of the inability of the board and the public to review the two together.

“I think we’ve created the conditions for confusion,” said board member Alan Seibert, a Youngkin appointee, at the Nov. 17 business meeting.

Board Member Bill Hansen, another Youngkin appointee, agreed, “I do think that what’s not here is what caused the anxiety out there and lacking communication, context.”

The role of the curriculum framework

A curriculum framework details the specific knowledge and skills necessary for students to meet the state’s educational standards in various subjects.

Balow has said the curriculum framework, which will be based on the standards, is the “bridge between the materials that are used and the teaching that happens every day,” while the standards document is more “public-facing and states the broad learning goals.”

The August standards the Board of Education considered included the curriculum framework in a 402-page document. In contrast, the November standards that excluded the framework clocked in at only 53 pages.

Balow said she had considered combining everything into a single package in October, but the result was not “feasible as a publicly consumable document.”

Additionally, she said that decoupling the two allows staff to work on the curriculum framework while the draft standards are being revised.

“It is really important to me that we reach out during the curriculum framework phase and engage teachers as one of our primary audiences and one of the primary communities that we seek input from because that’s who uses the curriculum framework,” said Balow.

Some board members, including President Daniel Gecker and member Anne Holton, both appointees of former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, expressed concerns about the decoupling at the October 20 meeting.

“I think for policy and process reasons, it’s crucial that we keep them together,” Holton said.

Balow, however, has argued the current approach isn’t much different from the process taken during the last revision of the state’s expectations seven years ago.

“The standards document was adopted — I believe it was about a 60-page document — in 2015, and almost one year later the curriculum frameworks were before the board,” she said on Oct. 20.

Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle also said in an email that “the 2018 Science (Standards of Learning) were approved in 2018. The corresponding curriculum framework was approved the following June.”

A ‘both and’ approach

Some teachers and parents, however, have been critical of the decoupling.

Chad Stewart, a policy analyst for the Virginia Education Association, said instead of decoupling, “it really could be a ‘both and’ approach where there are additional materials put out for the public to understand this curriculum while you maintain some of the more important technical frameworks for teachers to really implement the highest quality instruction they possibly can for this content.”

Kathleen Smith, a former educator in Petersburg and administrator in the state education department, said separating review of the curriculum framework from the standards will leave teachers with insufficient time to prepare lessons. That may be particularly difficult for general elementary school teachers who teach every core subject.

“I can’t even fathom how one would think I could develop lesson plans without a curriculum framework,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have those because I can go in, grab my resources, and it just makes life easier, but if you decouple them, you’re taking away a primary resource for teachers. You’ll lose more people in the field than you have now.”

A recent report by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found 10,900 teachers left the workforce ahead of the current school year, exceeding the number of new teachers entering it. Teachers said their dissatisfaction was linked to higher workload due to vacancies and a lack of parental and public respect.

Stewart said the curriculum framework is perhaps even more important than the standards because “it helps guide teachers in the pedagogy and sequencing and development of their lesson.”

He added that the framework also helps teachers think quickly through critical questions they need to ask their students.

Assessments based on the new standards will not begin until the 2024-25 school year.

Special meeting expected in January

Virginia Department of Education staff is currently drafting the curriculum framework before it goes out for public comment, according to a Nov. 17 presentation to the Board of Education.

The board delayed its review of standards at the same meeting until January. The draft is expected to include public feedback and content from the August version.

Balow said the framework is also subject to public and board input.

 

by Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Vigil in Chesapeake after Walmart shooting and more Va. headlines

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The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• “The suspect in a Southern California triple homicide who died in a shootout with police was a Virginia law enforcement officer who investigators believe drove across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family.”—Associated Press

• At a vigil last night in Chesapeake following last week’s mass shooting at a Walmart, the city mayor called the moment Chesapeake’s darkest hour. Gov. Glenn Youngkin told attendees that “we must not evolve into a sense of national despair.”—WTKR

• A century ago, families on Hog Island moved to Oyster, Va., to escape the rising seas. Now climate change means Oyster is being threatened as well, sparking questions of whether those families should stay or go.—Washington Post


• The Virginia Crime Commission is considering how law enforcement can test drivers for DUI impairment from marijuana after possession of small amounts of the drug became legal.—Daily Press

• Another group that aims to revive the beloved but now-discontinued Northern Neck Ginger Ale owned by Coca-Cola is asking Westmoreland County for support. “We’re trying to get Coke’s attention. Either bring it back or sell it back to us. I believe having it in Virginia will be the best way to go.”—News on the Neck

 

by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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After $9.5K FOIA bill, NAACP releases records on Virginia’s election integrity unit

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Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette Jr. outside the civil-rights group’s office in Richmond. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

 

A message Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office sent out in late August in response to “election integrity” complaints included a clear statement that state attorneys had no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 and, therefore, no reason to stop the legally mandated destruction of ballots two years after the election. The Aug. 24 email also included a line that struck at least one right-wing activist as big news.

“Attorney General Miyares has created an election integrity unit composed of attorneys and investigators that will work closely with law enforcement to ensure that future elections are conducted pursuant to law and at the highest level of integrity,” the email said.

On Aug. 30, a response came from Virginians for America First, a pro-Trump group founded by Republican congressional candidate Leon Benjamin, a Richmond-area pastor who invoked Satan and “spiritual war” as he spoke at a Stop the Steal rally outside the Virginia Department of Elections in November 2020.


Bill Hawkins, the group’s state director, told the attorney general’s office that if it were true, a new unit had been created, he’d like to put out a press release to show election integrity activists “the AG’s office has heard us and has responded positively by creating such a unit.”

“If your office is planning on announcing this soon, we will hold off on our own press release,” Hawkins wrote.

As Miyares staffers discussed how to respond, Senior Assistant Attorney General Donald Ferguson asked: “BTW, do we have an election integrity unit? I don’t see it on the org chart.”

A little more than a week later, on Sept. 9, the election integrity unit was officially announced, drawing instant condemnation from Democrats, who called it a nod to conspiracy theorists who spread false election fraud claims that could lead to excessive scrutiny of minority voters. The attorney general’s office has adamantly denied that characterization, saying the 20-person unit is a more streamlined way of enforcing election laws and investigating all voting-related complaints, an activity the office was already empowered to handle.

The emails illuminating the runup to the announcement were released Tuesday by the Virginia NAACP, which paid a little more than $9,500 to get records it called disappointingly scant on information about the unit’s personnel, procedures, and purpose.

“This unit is plainly a paper tiger,” NAACP Virginia President Robert N. Barnette Jr. said at a press conference in Richmond Tuesday morning, “a public relations ploy to pander to election deniers and conspiracy theorists, who are the real force undermining public confidence in our elections.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita suggested the NAACP was disappointed because it didn’t find proof to back up its allegations the unit is a “partisan masterminded witch hunt designed to prevent Virginians from exercising the very right the Attorney General’s family fled communism for.”

“As we said earlier this month, the Virginia NAACP is making groundless attacks that are offensive, ridiculous and without [a] single shred of proof,” LaCivita said. “Due to the NAACP’s inappropriate and baseless attack, we continue to expect an apology on behalf of the hundreds of men and women at the Office of the Attorney General who work every day protecting the rights and freedoms of all Virginians.”

The early activities of the election integrity unit have been unclear. The state is prosecuting a former top election official in Prince William County over misconduct allegations that could have resulted in the county reporting slightly incorrect vote counts for the 2020 election, but Miyares’ office has refused to reveal additional details about the case.

The NAACP was required to pay a roughly $20,000 deposit to have Miyares’ office act on its Freedom of Information Act request, even though the final bill came in at less than half that amount.

Barnette accused the office of using exorbitant fees to try to get the NAACP to back off its request, a common criticism from transparency advocates who say Virginia’s laws make it too costly and difficult to try to access government information.

Most of the records consist of internal emails, press clippings, and responses to public feedback about the election integrity announcement. Barnette said he saw nothing noteworthy in the material the NAACP received, which the attorney general’s office told the group required more than 200 hours of staff time to compile.

“This is a questionable amount of time and money given the complete lack of records regarding any actual staffing or operation of the unit,” Barnette said, adding that the NAACP is still challenging the $9,515.07 bill.

Miyares’ office said the fees aligned with state law allowing agencies to recoup the costs of expansive records requests, noting the NAACP had filed 17 requests seeking documents over a 15-year span. According to correspondence the NAACP released, the office withheld approximately 282 records, citing FOIA exemptions for working papers and correspondence, records covered by attorney-client privilege and documents related to criminal investigations.

Barnette, who reiterated his group’s call for Miyares to disband the election unit, said the NAACP had received no complaints of voter intimidation in the midterms earlier this month, the first election in which the unit was up and running.

Asked about the suggestion the NAACP owes the attorney general’s office an apology, Barnette said the group’s efforts had nothing to do with Miyares’ family background or his status as the state’s first Hispanic attorney general.

“We’re just calling out the issue that he established an election integrity unit that would have supposedly presented a barrier to African-Americans or people of color from voting,” Barnette said. “That’s our issue.”

Many of the documents the civil rights group turned up show seemingly routine sharing of internal talking points, press clippings and responses to public feedback. But some highlight the fine line Miyares and other Republican officeholders are trying to walk on election issues.

Shortly after the announcement of the unit’s formation, the attorney general’s office was invited to send a representative to an election integrity event in Loudoun County with conspiracy theorist Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, the author of a report on purported fraud in Arizona that an expert hired by the Arizona Senate dismissed as “utter rubbish.” LaCivita said no one from the office attended the event.

The talking points the attorney general’s office circulated in August were more unequivocal than some of its other public statements about the fact there is no proof of significant fraud in Virginia’s 2020 election.

“The attorney general’s office has reviewed the 2020 election results, along with hundreds of documents from concerned citizens and elected officials, and we have not seen any evidence of widespread fraud that would change the results of Virginia’s 2020 election,” the talking points said. “Therefore, we have no justification for suing to stop the discarding of ballots this year.”

The documents also show that former Virginia elections commissioner Chris Piper sparred with the attorney general’s office after Piper sought reassurances that the state’s top legal office would back the elections community against bogus fraud claims. The brief hiring of an election conspiracy theorist to oversee election issues in the attorney general’s office, as well as news that the office had taken a meeting with conspiracy-minded Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, Piper wrote, had raised “numerous concerns” for election officials.

“At this point, I believe it is incumbent upon [Attorney] General Miyares to make a public statement or, at the very least, provide a statement to my staff, the general registrars, and the Electoral Board members that he is behind us and committed to promoting the good work these dedicated public servants have done to administer safe and secure elections that the public can trust,” Piper wrote in the Feb. 24 email. “Anything less would legitimize concerns the Attorney General will not faithfully defend the good work of these dedicated public servants.”

In a reply a few hours later, Chief Deputy Attorney General Chuck Slemp called Piper’s message “disappointing” and “politically charged.”

“Let me be very clear: Our office is looking forward to working with the many public servants at the Virginia Department of Elections and local election officials and supporting them in their work to administer safe and secure elections,” Slemp wrote. “By doubting that, you are doubting the integrity of the Attorney General, and for that, you should be ashamed.”

In an internal memo announcing the unit, Slemp said Miyares’ background as the son of a Cuban immigrant who escaped an “oppressive regime” is part of what makes the attorney general believe “the right to vote is among the most sacred of American freedoms.”

“Accordingly, the attorney general wants every Virginian to have absolute confidence in our election system,” Slemp said.

Slemp called the initiative an efficiency-boosting “restructuring” of personnel already working on election matters and indicated it would not only be interested in anti-fraud investigations.

“The Unit will also work with civil rights attorneys to protect voting rights and crack down on voter intimidation,” Slemp said.

Slemp’s memo said the unit would be supervised by two senior officials in the Government Operations and Transactions Division, Section Chief Josh Lief and Deputy Attorney General Leslie Haley.

In several emails included in the documents, Lief explains to Virginians for Americans First, the Republican-aligned group focused largely on voter fraud, what the state’s election laws require.

On Sept. 13, Lief explained why there was no “statewide order to preserve ballots” as some GOP activists wanted. The next day, he explained that vote-counting machines are required under state law, meaning local electoral boards can’t stop using them in response to calls to hand-count all ballots.

A Sept. 15 email in the records shows Lief acknowledging that many election integrity activists don’t have a firm grasp of the state’s laws and procedures. As he and other officials addressed an inquiry about how the unit can initiate investigations, Lief described a “private election integrity community that does all this research, looks at other states’ laws, doesn’t understand so many things about VA voting systems, etc.”

“Being blunt but dealing with all this is really something,” Lief wrote to his colleagues.

 

by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury


 

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Proposal to reduce cosmetology licensure hours sparks backlash

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Elektra Walraven, a licensed cosmetologist who owns a salon in Lynchburg, styling hair for a client. (Photo by Beck Faircloth, courtesy of Elektra Walraven)

 

The General Laws Subcommittee room was filled to the brim and unusually colorful on an afternoon in March 2022.

Approximately 50 cosmetology students, some sporting bright neon hair, had traveled from across the state to oppose a bill from Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, that aimed to reduce the number of training hours required for a cosmetology license.

“You should have seen the room packed with people like it was the hottest issue,” said Jonathan Melloul, CEO of Sylvain Melloul International Hair Academy, a school based in Lynchburg that has been in operation since 1969 and has around 75 students in a given year.


The legislation was narrowly tabled later the same day in committee — the fifth time since 2019 that a proposal to reduce cosmetology training hours had failed before the House of Delegates or the Senate. The committee instead left the decision in the hands of regulators.

Now, under Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, those regulators are proposing to reduce the number of hours needed for a cosmetology license in Virginia from 1,500 to 1,000. The administration says the decrease will spur job growth in the cosmetology industry, which includes professions such as nail, lash and wax technicians, estheticians, and hairstylists, and reduce financial burdens for students.

But numerous people in Virginia’s cosmetology industry question the motives behind the reduction and say it will lead to fewer people working in the industry, place excessive burdens on schools and students, and foster dangerous situations.

“It’s all about our students; the value of the education they get. They are the ones who don’t want this,” Melloul said. “It was like they were ignored as nobody listened to them and they’re the ones most affected.”

Less hours, less confidence, less cosmetologists

If students aren’t confident with what they’ve learned when they leave school, they’re less likely to go into the industry, said Linda Ingram, director at the Staunton School of Cosmetology, which has been in operation since 1956 and has between 30 and 40 students per year.

“We just feel like this is really going to be a detriment,” she said.

Karly Pierce, a student at Rudy & Kelly Academy, a Paul Mitchell partner school in Virginia Beach, has completed a little over 1,000 hours of training and said that if she graduated right now, “I think I would be set up for failure.”

Christine King, a graduate of Paul Mitchell The School Roanoke who now works at a salon and does house visits for clients, said when she and her classmates heard about Marsden’s bill to lower the hours, “like 90% of the people that I’ve seen freaked out about it,” she said.

“Some of us were over 1,000 hours and about to graduate,” King said, “and we ourselves were like, ‘If we have to leave at 1,000 hours, we would probably drop out.’”

 

John Turnage, owner of six Paul Mitchell schools, including one in Roanoke, speaks to cosmetology students at the Virginia Capitol ahead of a hearing on a bill that would have reduced training hours. (Natasha Greene)

 

Joyce Worrall, director of Rudy & Kelly Academy in Virginia Beach, said the school’s admissions leader has recently been getting calls from people asking if they can enroll before the hours are reduced in order to receive the old curriculum based on a 1,500-hour requirement.

Mitch Melis, director of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which oversees licensing in Virginia for cosmetology and other industries, acknowledged some students entering the profession have concerns about the reduction and may not be as proficient as they’d like when they leave school. But he said the department’s goal is to ensure that cosmetologists are practicing safely and won’t injure anyone – and the agency believes the 1,000-hour standard will be sufficiently protective.

“While you’re not necessarily going to be the best hairstylist or cosmetologist the day you graduate, we feel a lot more confident we are protecting health, safety, and welfare,” he said.

Not all cosmetologists believe the reduced training would negatively impact the industry. Debra Sawyer, a salon owner in Virginia, wrote in a comment on the proposal to reduce hours that “the extra hours are not needed and only lead to bigger student loans they will have to repay.”

“Over the last 16 years, I have hired numerous stylists who graduated from the beauty schools with the 1,500 hours and numerous stylists who graduated from our high school tech schools with only a required 840 hours of instruction,” she wrote. “I have found no difference between the level of preparedness to be on the floor servicing clients between the two programs.”

Burdens to students and schools

Other concerns voiced by cosmetologists and cosmetology students include financial aid, how transferable a 1,000-hour license would be to other states, and whether students could receive adequate training in working with natural or textured hair in shortened programs.

Proponents of the reduction say a shorter curriculum would not impact financial aid and would actually lead to less student debt.

“It even reduces the number of student loans a graduate will have to take on,” said Youngkin in a July 19 press release.

But Melloul said that if the curriculum is shortened, students’ financial aid eligibility will be drastically decreased because funding is based on the length of the program, but schools won’t necessarily be able to lower tuition just because the curriculum is shorter without jeopardizing their financial situation.

That can strain many schools. In Texas, which has a 1,000-hour licensure requirement, Audra Turner, executive education leader at Paul Mitchell The School Dallas, said teachers “are expected to deliver the same education in a third less time.” Reductions can also make it difficult for schools to retain their accreditations — the loss of which could mean the revocation of its certificate to operate and spell the end of the institution.

Being able to transfer cosmetology licenses to other states is also a huge priority for students, particularly those in or married to spouses in the military — a common situation in military-heavy Hampton Roads. If the license doesn’t meet the requirements set by another state, a cosmetologist might have to enroll in additional training to be able to practice.

According to a list of state requirements collected by Paul Mitchell Schools, new Virginia cosmetologists trained under a 1,000-hour curriculum could lose reciprocity in 17 states.

“You’re taking that portability away from students being able to transfer that license, and that’s huge to me,” Worrall said.

 

A client’s hair was styled by Christine King, a recent graduate of Paul Mitchell The School Roanoke who now works at a salon and does house visits for clients. (Photo courtesy Christine King)

 

According to some cosmetologists, reducing hours could also impact how well students learn to work with natural or textured hair. Training is already limited in the current 1,500-hour curriculum, said King, who noted many clients with those types of hair are hesitant about stylists’ skills because of the neglect they’ve previously received at salons due to lack of knowledge.

“I feel like if you’re going to work in an industry such as cosmetology, you should be able to cater to all hair and skin types,” King said. “Not just one.”

‘You can really hurt people’

Because cosmetologists often have to handle strong chemicals, sharp tools, and hot instruments that have the potential to harm a client seriously, many people in the industry say the reduction would increase the risk of injury.

Shears, scissors, razors, and trimmers can cause lacerations, while irons, hair dryers, and strong chemicals can cause burns to a client’s face or skin, said Elektra Walraven, a licensed cosmetologist and salon owner in Lynchburg.

“It’s a really bad and really dangerous idea,” Walraven said. “It’s one thing to pump out waitresses, and it’s another thing to pump out people who are putting life-altering chemicals on your face and head. You can really hurt people.”

Salons have insurance for a reason, she added.

But DPOR says the reduced hours won’t lead to safety reductions for the public. In an email, agency director Melis said DPOR brought in a national subject-matter expert on safety to share feedback on reducing the curriculum. Additionally, he stated, the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology, which voted to reduce the hours and is overseen by DPOR, is composed of experts who are familiar with the safety risks associated with the profession. That board created a 10-member regulatory advisory panel earlier this year to review the proposed curriculum with a focus on minimum competency.

DPOR and its boards are statutorily mandated to ensure licensees possess minimum competency, Melis emphasized, which means the “absolute bare minimum of knowledge, skills, and abilities as not to harm the public.”

West Virginia University Professor Edward Timmons wrote in a comment in favor of the reduction that “there is no evidence of consumer harm resulting from” lowered cosmetology licensure hours.

“If Virginia reduces cosmetology licensing requirements from 1,500 to 1,000 hours,” he said, “it will be joining 15 other states that have made similar changes in the last 10 years.”

Large chains backing hours reduction

Despite cosmetologists’ concerns, Marsden said he introduced his bill this year because the cosmetology industry is experiencing a worker shortage, “especially the major hair-cutting firms.”

From Nov. 1, 2019, to Nov. 1 of this year, the number of licensed cosmetologists in Virginia has decreased by 4.3%, according to data provided by DPOR.

Among the backers of Marsden’s bill this year was the salon lobbying group Future of the Beauty Industry Coalition, which represents national companies such as Sport Clips, Great Clips, and Hair Cuttery.

The push to reduce cosmetology hours isn’t new, Melis said. He said that DPOR has heard from the industry, schools, and students year after year that the 1,500-hour requirement was “excessive.”

“The agency is finally being responsive to the variety of stakeholders who have been looking and asking for this,” Melis said.

But neither Turner nor John Turnage, the owner of six Paul Mitchell Schools across three states, including the one in Roanoke, said they have heard any students complain about the length of the curriculum. Instead, they say large national companies are the main groups who want the requirement lowered.

“The companies that are pushing it are looking for low-paid labor,” Turnage said.

Pierce of Rudy & Kelly Academy also said the shorter curriculum will only serve to benefit the chain salons because small independent businesses aren’t going to want to hire graduates with 1,000 hours of training. Those businesses say some cosmetologists may not have the time to educate graduates who have received less training.

The Future of the Beauty Industry Coalition, which did not respond to a request for comment from the Virginia Mercury, has also successfully lobbied for reduced training hours in other states, including Texas, which it cited as an example before the subcommittee on why the reduction would be successful.

There has been no difference between 1,000- and 1,500-hour states in terms of the number of complaints, Matthew Benka, a lobbyist for the coalition and former vice chairman of the Virginia Board for Professional and Occupational Regulation, told the subcommittee in March.

Benka also assured the subcommittee that the reduction “does not change financial aid.”

Turnage, who also owns Paul Mitchell schools in Texas, said enrollment numbers have stayed the same despite the state’s reduction of licensure hours beginning in late 2019. However, Turner of Paul Mitchell The School Dallas said the school hasn’t been teaching a 1,000-hour curriculum long enough to know if students trained with it are able to earn a living long-term.

32 hours

After Marsden’s latest bill was tabled, the regulatory advisory panel spent months filling out surveys and reviewing the curriculum. It presented the Virginia Board for Barbers and Cosmetology in May with an average curriculum recommendation of 892.5 hours. The lowest recommendation was 32 hours.

Just over a month later, on July 11, the board voted to begin the regulatory process to lower the hours from 1,500 to 1,000.

 

While Melloul applauded the board for its creation of the panel, he said, “the makeup of the panel members dictated the outcome.”

Three of the panel members worked for companies represented by the Future of the Beauty Industry Coalition.

“I think there are some people on there that literally said 80 hours is enough; that’s all the training you need for cosmetology,” Melloul said.

Turner, who also sat on the panel, called some of the curriculum hours recommendations  “mind-boggling.” She recalled one-panel member saying there didn’t need to be any hours for training on how to use curling, flat and other irons because it was a “no brainer,” and “it’s hot, you don’t touch them.” Another expressed the opinion that “giving cosmetologists more information would actually make them dangerous” when spotting potential abnormal moles, she said, “because she thought that we would try to diagnose and treat things, which we don’t.”

“There wasn’t really anyone that I know of asking the question of, ‘Hey, if this person said that there should only be 32 hours, should this person be considered an expert? And what’s their agenda?’” Turner said.

Melis said the panel members were “carefully considered and intentionally comprised of a broad spectrum of education providers and employer representatives.”

A ‘craft people take pride in’

Turnage said that businesses having problems attracting or retaining employees need to change their business model and “not try to change the one that’s helping the education of the student.”

Marsden argued that many students think they will be making a fortune working in private salons but actually work at a chain salon for lower rates.

Ingram, Turnage, Melloul, and Worrall, however, said most of their students end up working at independently-owned salons after graduation.

Cosmetology is a “craft people take pride in, and they don’t want just to burn and churn people out of a salon,” Melloul said. Some chain salons “don’t really care about the haircut as (much as) they care if the client’s in and out in 15 minutes.”

Pierce said a reduced curriculum will diminish the quality of cosmetology in the state.

“It’s not going to be an artistic field anymore, and it’s just going to turn into a machine,” she said. “It’s a skill and a trade, not a way to make money quickly.”

The proposed curriculum will be considered at the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology’s Jan. 9 meeting next year.

This story has been corrected to note that the Staunton School of Cosmetology has between 30 and 40 students per year.

 

by Meghan McIntyre, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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State News

Miyares asks for freeze on loan payments for Pink Energy projects

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Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares joined a coalition of states in asking five solar lending companies to freeze loan payments and interest accruals for customers who had solar installed by Pink Energy but haven’t received a working system.

Pink Energy, which also does business as Power Home Solar, filed for bankruptcy this October in North Carolina.

“Many Virginians were caught off-guard by Pink Energy’s sudden bankruptcy,” Miyares said in a statement. “By joining this coalition, we’re trying to ease the strain on Virginians’ wallets while actively investigating the situation.”

Miyares said his office launched an investigation into the company after receiving complaints from Virginia residents about alleged deceptive business practices. Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Miyares, said the attorney general’s office received over 100 complaints. Before the investigation was complete, the business filed for bankruptcy.


In a Nov. 22 letter, the attorneys general — a bipartisan group from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee — say many of the complaints they received alleged that Pink Energy made “false representations regarding the systems’ capabilities and anticipated electric bill reduction.”

Consumers were led to believe they were making “environmentally friendly and financially prudent decisions by purchasing a solar power system from Pink” and are now footing loan payments for an underperforming or non-functioning solar power system on top of their monthly electric bills, the attorneys general wrote.

Predatory residential solar installers could sow mistrust, advocates fear

Additionally, they said the company allegedly misrepresented customers’ eligibility to use state or federal tax credits.

In an interview with WAVY, one customer said he was told his electric bill would decrease by around $14 a month. Pink Energy told the station complaints were driven by faulty equipment from Generac, which said issues could arise from not following product guidelines.

The Nov. 22 letter asks the lending companies, which include Dividend Solar Finance, GoodLeap, Cross Riverbank, Sunlight Financial, and Solar Mosaic, to suspend consumers’ payment obligations “until an investigation into the individual consumers’ complaints can be completed” among other assistance.

Some solar advocates have voiced concern about a rise in predatory solar installers in Virginia following the loosening of residential solar laws in 2020. Other states have implemented consumer protections targeted at solar customers, including a Renewable Energy Bill of Rights that requires purchase agreement disclosures.

 

by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Technomics, Inc. invests $1.7 million to increase capacity in Arlington County, creating 150 new jobs

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Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Technomics, Inc., an employee-owned decision analysis company specializing in cost analysis, data management, and data analytics, has invested $1.7 million to expand in Arlington County. The company is leasing an additional 10,000 square feet of space at 1225 South Clark Street to increase capacity. Virginia successfully competed with Maryland, DC, and California for the project, which will create 150 new jobs.

“Virginia boasts the largest concentration of tech talent in the U.S., and Technomics is a prime example of how an educated and skilled workforce pipeline can contribute to the success of a business,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “In addition to talent, Arlington County provides strategic proximity to the company’s primary customers. We congratulate Technomics on this expansion and look forward to its continued growth trajectory in the Commonwealth.”

“We are pleased to support the growth of Technomics in Arlington County,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “Northern Virginia’s world-class talent, data infrastructure, and access have provided an ideal location for the company to thrive for more than 20 years, and we are committed to our continued partnership.”

“In these financially challenging times, our federal clients need greater support to help them better manage their scarce resources. Because of its vicinity to many of our clients and employee-owners, Arlington County is the perfect location for our expansion,” said Al Leung, President & CEO of Technomics. “In fact, the need is so high that just as our expansion came to a close, we began to actively pursue an additional 10,000 square feet of space—also in Arlington County—to be dedicated to clients requiring compliance with highly specialized technical requirements.”


“We welcome Technomics’ decision to expand its footprint in Arlington and its ongoing contributions to our community’s economy,” said Katie Cristol, Chair of the Arlington County Board. “We believe Arlington’s proximity to the nation’s capital and federal client base, as well as our talented tech workforce and business resources, will be an asset as Technomics continues its success.”

“I’m happy to welcome Technomics, Inc.’s expansion and the addition of new, good-paying jobs to Arlington and to see Northern Virginia’s continued growth as a tech hub and national leader in innovation,” said Congressman Don Beyer.

“Technomics’ decision to expand its footprint in Arlington County is a testament to the skilled workforce and business infrastructure we’ve built in Northern Virginia,” said Senator Adam P. Ebbin. “The progressive business climate of Arlington County continues to attract top-level tech talent, including the skilled team at Technomics.”

“Technomics’ decision to expand in Arlington is a testament to the economic infrastructure and available talent in Arlington, particularly in the technology and analytics space,” said Delegate Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. “I welcome Technomics’ decision to expand and look forward to seeing its continued impact on Arlington and the Commonwealth.”

Established in 1984, Technomics is a 100% employee-owned company focused on providing U.S. & international government clients with analytics-based services to help them make better decisions faster. The company’s more than 220 professionals are multi-disciplined, quantitatively oriented analysts who deliver a variety of analytical services. While its roots are in cost estimating and analysis, its services now extend to a wide range of analytic capabilities that drive organizational cost analysis maturity, support portfolio optimization, and provide actionable insights through smart data management and data analytics.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Arlington County to secure the project for Virginia and will support Technomics’ job creation through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP), which provides consultative services and funding to companies creating new jobs in order to support employee recruitment and training activities. As a business incentive supporting economic development, VJIP reduces the human resource costs of new and expanding companies. VJIP is state-funded, demonstrating Virginia’s commitment to enhancing job opportunities for citizens.

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:

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Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Vetbuilder.com

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

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Kickoff for tree sales — Boy Scout Troop 52 is ready to help you find that perfect tree. We are located at the Royal Plaza in front of Rural King. We will be selling trees[...]
5:00 pm Holiday Book Fair @ Laurel Ridge Community College
Holiday Book Fair @ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Meet your Local Authors and Purchase Books for the Holidays You’re invited to our very first Holiday Book Fair! We will provide space for you to display your books and have a chance to interact with[...]
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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4:00 pm Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
Dec 1 @ 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
Kickoff for tree sales — Boy Scout Troop 52 is ready to help you find that perfect tree. We are located at the Royal Plaza in front of Rural King. We will be selling trees[...]
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“Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
Dec 1 @ 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
"Can't Feel At Home" @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” an original play by Dr John T Glick. The story of families displaced from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930’s to allow for the construction of Shenandoah National Park and[...]
Dec
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4:00 pm Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
Dec 2 @ 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
Kickoff for tree sales — Boy Scout Troop 52 is ready to help you find that perfect tree. We are located at the Royal Plaza in front of Rural King. We will be selling trees[...]
7:30 pm “Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
Dec 2 @ 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
"Can't Feel At Home" @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” an original play by Dr John T Glick. The story of families displaced from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930’s to allow for the construction of Shenandoah National Park and[...]
Dec
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6:00 am 66th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
66th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
Dec 3 @ 6:00 am – 1:00 pm
66th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
Veterans,  Law Enforcement, and Fire and Rescue on duty in uniform eats free!
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Christmas Bazaar @ Valley Assembly of God Church
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3:00 pm “Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
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"Can't Feel At Home" @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” an original play by Dr John T Glick. The story of families displaced from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930’s to allow for the construction of Shenandoah National Park and[...]