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Morning Notes

Virginia Prepares to Vaccinate Kids Against COVID-19 — “Northam said during a news conference that the state Department of Health is working with local school divisions and superintendents to roll out the vaccines as soon as they are available and that administering shots in schools would be equitable and efficient. The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be approved for children ages 5-11 in late October or early November.” [Inside NoVA]

Fairfax County Schools Vandalized for TikTok Trend — Falls Church High School and Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly are casualties of the social media site’s “devious licks” challenge, which involves students vandalizing school property, often bathrooms. A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson said discipline has been and will be taken in response to the damage. [WTOP]

County Fire and Rescue Recruits GMU to Save Honeybees — “Recently, a honeybee hive was discovered at #FCFRD USAR Training site. Instead of killing the bees, George Mason University was contacted to see if they knew of an option to facilitate a relocation. The Honeybee Initiative at GMU came out and relocated the hive! A future without bees would really sting! Great to BEE a part of a positive solution!” [FCFRD/Facebook]

Longtime Vienna Jewelry Store Celebrates Reopening — Achikian Goldsmiths, a jewelry store that has operated in the Town of Vienna since 1990, will hold a grand opening celebration to mark its relocation to 110 Pleasant Street NW. Starting at 5 p.m. today (Tuesday), the ceremony will include a ribbon-cutting by Mayor Linda Colbert and a “diamond giveaway,” according to signs on the storefront.

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A field inside The St. James in Springfield (courtesy SportsNOVA)

Fairfax County has joined three other Virginia localities to create SportsNOVA, a marketing partnership aimed at promoting Northern Virginia as a destination for sporting events.

As the county’s official tourism organization, Visit Fairfax announced on Aug. 10 that it has aligned with the marketing arms of Loudoun, Prince William, and Strafford counties to promote and pitch the region.

The agencies believe the location, availability of already-built venues, and accessibility of public transportation make Northern Virginia an ideal place for sports tournaments, events, and championships.

Eric Kulczycky, Visit Fairfax’s national sales manager, says sports can be a huge economic driver for a region, and he hopes that this partnership can help better capture those dollars.

“[Sporting events] can generate taxes and jobs,” he said. “Through visitor spending like hotel stays, eating at restaurants, buying tickets to [events]…Our mission is to generate additional spending and get new money coming into our communities.”

There is evidence that sports drive considerable economic activity. One 2019 study conducted by a sports tourism trade association found that 180 million trips were made in the U.S. for sporting events — from youth to professional leagues — with more than half of those trips being overnight.

Visitors who stayed overnight spent $359 per person on average.

Northern Virginia has hosted a number of large sports events in recent years, including the 2015 World Police & Fire Games, the 2017 Senior PGA Championship, and a Kayak Bass Fishing tournament this past May.

The hope, Kulczycky says, is to entice more events of this nature, like regional hockey tournaments and more senior-centric sporting events.

One of the main selling points is that the county and region have a number of available venues, several of which are relatively new.

The St. James complex in Springfield opened in 2018 and has a multitude of facilities, including four NBA-size basketball courts, two NHL-size rinks, a 50-meter Olympic pool, and indoor turf fields.

There is also George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena, which is on the verge of a major renovation. Elsewhere, there is Segra Field, which opened in Loudoun County two years ago, and the Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford, which was also only completed a few years ago.

Kulczycky says there have been preliminary conversations in Fairfax County about opening additional indoor and outdoor sporting complexes as well.

Not every Northern Virginia locality is part of this partnership. Notably, Arlington County isn’t in the consortium. Kulczycky says Arlington officials have not been currently actively pursuing the sports tourism market, but there’s an “open invitation” for them to join.

Kulczycky says the decision to combine forces with other localities was due to the realization that being together was better.

“There are multi-sport and large single-sport events that Fairfax County simply cannot host unless we secure facilities in other jurisdictions,” he said.

Plus, Kulczycky notes that a combined marketing campaign is more cost-effective.

SportsNOVA is simply an extension of what Fairfax County and Northern Virginia has been trying to do separately for years.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and there’s always been an interest in hosting sports tournaments in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia,” Kulczycky said. “So, we’re just continuing to look to expand opportunities in the sports market.”

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Morning Notes

General Assembly to Hold Special Session in August — “Governor Ralph Northam today [Wednesday] issued a proclamation calling the members of the General Assembly into special session on Monday, August 2. A special session is necessary to fill judicial vacancies and allocate more than $4.3 billion in federal relief funding.” [Office of the Governor]

British Pub Opens Doors in Vienna — Hawk & Griffin had a long-awaited soft opening this week for its 435 Maple Avenue West venue, which is now open for reservations and will start allowing walk-ins on Friday (June 25). The British pub has been in the works since February 2020 but delayed opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Patch]

Tysons Boulevard Lane to Close Again — One northbound lane of Tysons Boulevard will be temporarily closed for a second year to give pedestrians and bicyclists access to a half-mile stretch of road in the Tysons Galleria area. The closure will begin on July 6 with no set end date, though it could be reassessed depending on traffic conditions. [Fairfax County Department of Transportation]

Scott’s Run Trail Project Awarded — A new asphalt pedestrian trail and two bridges over Scott’s Run were named Project of the Year for Transportation in the under-$5 million category by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA). The project started construction in July 2019, and Fairfax County held a ribbon-cutting on Feb. 4. [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Vienna Hosts George Mason University President — GMU President Dr. Gregory Washington will discuss the paradox of Mason’s role as a key figure in American history and as a slaveholder at the Vienna Community Center at 5 p.m. today. The event will also feature a panel discussion as part of the Town of Vienna’s Liberty Amendments Month celebration. [Volunteer Fairfax/Twitter]

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George Mason University students and employees hold a protest regarding the treatment of janitorial staff by the contractor LT Services (Photo courtesy 32BJ SEIU)

A cleaning services contractor based in Merrifield is undergoing an audit ordered by George Mason University in response to allegations of labor law violations.

In recent months, LT Services Inc. (2815 Hartland Rd.) and its subcontractors have faced numerous complaints by workers who say they have experienced poor working conditions, including delayed payments and retaliation for engaging in union activities.

GMU President Gregory Washington announced on Feb. 22 that, after conducting an initial review of the complaints against LT Services, which provides janitorial services at the university’s 220 buildings in Northern Virginia, he has ordered an outside audit of the contractor by the accounting firm Baker Tilly.

“George Mason University values everyone who works on our campuses, whether they are faculty, classified staff, student employees, or contractors. We hold high standards toward the treatment of everyone,” Washington said. “…I look forward to learning the results of what I expect will be a thorough, fair, and thoughtful audit.”

Washington added that Mason would not “offer any further public comment” until the audit is completed “in order to be fair to all involved.” A GMU spokesperson reiterated that sentiment, telling Tysons Reporter that Washington’s statement would be the university’s “only comment” on the issue.

LT Services declined to comment when contacted by Tysons Reporter.

While Mason’s audit is ongoing, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating LT Services and two of its subcontractors — Reyes Cleaning Contractors and Seth Ean Service — for allegedly engaging in unfair labor practices to shut down workers’ efforts to organize, according to documents provided by the Local 32BJ chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which filed the charges on March 9.

In its charging statement, SEIU states that LT Services promised workers at GMU a $2 raise and money to pay hospital bills in response to “protected concerted activities” and told a worker “to not discuss their working conditions with others.”

The charges against Reyes Cleaning accuse the company of interrogating employees and creating “more onerous working conditions” in retaliation for union-related activities. SEIU alleges that Seth Ean Service interrogated and intimidated workers, told them not to talk to union organizers, and disciplined a worker and reduced their pay for participating in union activities.

The three new cases come on the heels of two settlements won by SEIU on behalf of the contract cleaners at Mason. H&E Cleaning Service Inc., a subcontractor of LT Services, signed a settlement on Nov. 11 and again in January after the union accused the company of threatening and intimidating workers, sabatoging their work areas, and denying them compensation.

LT Services was also one of five companies required to pay back wages in 2016 after Montgomery County determined that they had violated its living wage laws.

SEIU expressed skepticism of the outside audit ordered by George Mason University, urging Washington to instead hire a new, responsible contractor immediately.

“Essential workers that keep Mason clean every day cannot wait for an audit to finish,” 32BJ SEIU said in a statement. “They have brought numerous allegations and violations against L.T. Services and their subcontractors to President Washington for nearly a year. President Washington cannot delay ensuring that these essential workers be treated with respect, especially in a global pandemic.”

Pressure on GMU to address concerns about the treatment of contract workers has been growing both internally and externally.

Several state elected officials, including Dels. Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean) and Mark Keam (D-Vienna), wrote a letter to Washington on March 15 urging the university to “ensure its contracted and subcontracted janitors, students, and broader community are kept safe and healthy during this pandemic by choosing to employ a responsible janitorial contractor.”

In addition, over 220 Mason faculty, staff, students, and alumni have signed a resolution from the American Association of University Professors’ GMU chapter expressing support for the janitors and calling for the adoption of a policy that would require contractors to give workers a living wage, benefits, and other rights.

“We don’t want to prejudge the audit, but we think that we already have enough information for what we think is the solution, and the solution is for Mason to adopt a responsible contractor policy,” GMU-AAUP interim president Tim Gibson, who teaches communications at Mason, said. “…If you want to contract with our institution, with our community, then you need to commit to treating your workers with fairness and respect.”

Along with forming a GMU Coalition for Workers’ Rights, GMU-AAUP joined SEIU for a “car caravan” protest at Mason’s Fairfax campus on Thursday (March 18).

“We hope the widespread outpouring of support for the janitors helps President Washington take seriously the trauma these essential workers have been through, while risking their lives to keep GMU safe,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Jaime Contreras said. “Such an esteemed institution, focused on social justice, should simply hire responsible contractors. President Washington can and should utilize his power to ensure janitors a new employer that upholds the school’s values.”

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A labor dispute between janitors who work at George Mason University and their employer – allegedly a subcontractor of the Falls Church-based contractor LT Services – has ended in a settlement, the Service Employees International Union announced on Nov. 30.

The Manassas-based subcontractor, H&E Cleaning Service, Inc., signed a settlement agreement on Nov. 11 saying it would uphold the National Labor Relations Act after the janitors claimed that they had experienced retaliation for engaging in union-related activities.

Though the janitors in the federal complaint are not currently part of the union, 32BJ SEIU filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on their behalf in June.

32BJ SEIU alleges that, in addition to facing threats and interrogation for potential union activities, the janitors who help clean and disinfect GMU’s hallways, sinks, bathrooms, and floors have been denied extra compensation for the additional work they have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One janitor named Eugenio Gudiel received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on Nov. 14, though he has since recovered and returned to work this week, according to the union.

“I hope they pay me these weeks that I was away since this affects our economy and puts our families and coworkers at risk,” Gudiel said.

In a statement dated June 8 provided by the SEIU, Gudiel said that H&E President Ean Thouch had started to retaliate against him after she saw him talking to union organizers in October 2019, including by laying him and four coworkers off on May 14. They were rehired on June 8.

32BJ SEIU says that H&E is a subcontractor of LT Services, GMU’s main cleaning contractor. The union alleges that janitors employed by H&E are being illegally classified as independent contractors, receiving wages only once a month and sometimes getting bad checks or checks for less than what they are owed.

Tysons Reporter contacted H&E and its legal representatives as well as LT Services and George Mason University for comment but has not received responses as of publication time.

According to a copy of the settlement agreement, which was approved by the National Labor Relations Board on Nov. 23, H&E is required to send a notice informing current and former employees who worked for the company since June 1 of their rights.

The notice states that the National Labor Relations Act gives workers the right to form a union and engage in union-related activities and to discuss working conditions with other employees. It also says H&E will not infringe those rights by questioning employees or threatening a loss of employment for workers who engage in union activities.

“This victory is critical in protecting the janitors’ rights to the union organizing and bargaining that is often the only way they can access workplace safety protections, including [personal protective equipment] provided by their employer,” 32BJ SEIU said.

Photo via Oliver Hale/Unsplash

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The highly ranked master’s security studies programs at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University have received a $250,000 gift from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation.

The funds will be used for scholarships for eligible master’s students entering the Schar School in Spring 2021 who are pursuing degrees in a security studies-related program.

“The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation gift is making it possible for many students to attend our high-ranked security studies programs and prepare for careers in intelligence and security policy,” said Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell. “We are grateful for this new partnership that will advance our shared goal of educating and training future policy professionals in these fields.”

The scholarship gift is intended to develop and prepare future national security professionals and leaders who will study in one of the Schar School’s four master’s programs: Master’s in International Security, Master’s in Biodefense, Master’s in Public Policy with an emphasis in National Security and Public Policy, and the global No. 22-ranked Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

“We are delighted to support students to attend a top-tier policy and government school which prepares them to be the outstanding professionals who will serve in the national security arena,” said foundation Chief Executive Officer Abby Spencer Moffat in announcing the award.

The scholarships range from $3,000 to $30,000 and will be distributed over the first three semesters of the degree program. Learn more about the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation Scholarship and how to apply.

Curious about where a security-focused degree can take you? Register for our upcoming virtual job talk on October 29 for a rare chance to hear from industry experts on ways to research and build out a policy and security career roadmap from the scope of available opportunities. Panelists will also share their knowledge on skills critical to preparing for professional success.

Former deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, who is now a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Schar School’s national security program, will also greet prospective students and share his security experience during a Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House on November 12. Register to attend.

To stay updated on opportunities or information about the Schar School’s graduate programs, please visit our admissions event page or fill out our request form.

The Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University is offering a new three-part series of “virtual visits” to campus for prospective undergraduate students to see first-hand the opportunities and world-changing subject matter that a Schar School student encounters.

“The virtual visits will showcase some of the high-profile professors, students, and graduates who make the Schar School one of the highest ranked policy and government schools in the country,” said Shannon Williams, who works in student services and is coordinating the virtual visits. “The variety of the topics of the three events range from examining the future of American democracy to justice and prison privatization to getting ready for your career in changing the world. Prospective students will be able to ask questions at the end and they can register for one session or all three, at no cost.”

The virtual visit series will be held October 13-15, at 6 p.m. EDT. Topics throughout the week include:

Register to attend any or all of the virtual visits.

With a BA in Government and International Politics and the BS in Public Administration, students are poised to make an impact globally and locally.

To learn more about other upcoming events, please visit our event calendar or connect with the Schar School Office of Undergraduate Student Services at [email protected].

Join the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University for an upcoming virtual open house for prospective students! Learn more about our top-ranked degrees as our sessions will explore master’s, certificate and PhD programs.

Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House
Tuesday, September 15
6:30-8 p.m. (EDT)

PhD Virtual Open House
Wednesday, September 23
7-8:30 p.m. (EDT)

Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House
Thursday, October 22
6:30-8 p.m. (EDT)

Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House
Thursday, November 12
6:30-8 p.m. (EDT)

George Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 2 best school in the U.S. for security studies programs relating to intelligence, counterterrorism, and emergency management. With dedicated career services advisors, 16,000+ passionate alumni around the globe, and a faculty of leaders and experts in their fields, you will benefit from a world-class education.

Graduate Certificate Programs (5 Courses Each)

Part-time and full-time options available

Master’s Degree Programs

Part-time and full-time options available

PHD Degree Programs

Part-time and full-time options available

To learn more about graduate programs at the Schar School, fill out the inquiry form to indicate your interest to the Admissions team or register for a virtual open house.

The Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University is offering prospective graduate students the opportunity to sample a free virtual lecture regarding one of the more pressing concerns of the day: the coronavirus pandemic and, more specifically, the future threats that might be inspired by it.

The sample lecture, titled Will COVID-19 Inspire Greater Interest in Bioweapons?, will be held July 22 at 12 p.m. EDT. It will be taught by professor Gregory Koblentz, director of the biodefense master’s, PhD, and graduate certificate programs at the Schar School.

“The sample lecture will discuss the history of bioterrorism and why different terrorist groups have tried to develop and use biological weapons,” said Koblentz. “Understanding the motivations for bioterrorism can help us predict the conditions under which bioterrorist groups emerge.”

The online lecture will be based on a bioterrorism risk assessment framework that Koblentz developed as part of an earlier research project on chemical, bioterrorism, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism. In 2016, Koblentz briefed the UN Security Council on the impact of emerging technologies on the threat posed by the proliferation of CBRN weapons to non-state actors.

“This class sampler,” said Koblentz, “will provide a preview of one of the lectures I’ll be giving in BIOD 609: Biodefense Strategy in the fall. This will be the first chance for prospective students to hear my analysis of this threat.”

The session will reveal new insights about the pandemic and how diseases could be used for bioterrorism or biological warfare in the future. “There is a long-standing debate in the field about the threat posed by bioterrorism,” said Koblentz, “and there are a whole bunch of new questions being raised about how the COVID-19 pandemic might increase that threat. There are some disturbing indications that both far-right and jihadist terrorist groups are seeking to exploit the pandemic to advance their respective political agendas.”

Register to attend the sample lecture.

To stay updated on sample lecture opportunities or information about the Schar School’s graduate programs, please visit our admissions event page or fill out our request form.

Two Vienna residents looking to simplify the way people buy and sell event tickets decided to start their own company.

Newly created TicketFam is an online platform that controls ticket distribution for events. Though still in the early startup phase of the company, co-founders and friends Ashik Banjade and Arian Shahbazi said that their main goal is to disrupt how people buy and sell tickets now.

The James Madison University graduates met while in college a few years back and launched their company eight months ago. Though they both have full-time jobs as IT consultants, they said they work on their company during their spare time.

“We’ll work with anyone — vendors, artists or stadiums,” Banjade told Tysons Reporter, adding that users can register on the platform and create an event page.

The platform functions by working with event organizers to create a seating or ticketing arrangement, promote events and special offers, analyze the target audience for the event for marketing purposes and allow attendees to purchase tickets from sellers, according to the company’s website.

Currently, the co-founders work with a production company run by Shahbazi’s family called Arian Productions.

On TicketFam’s website, tickets are only available for the upcoming act 25Band, which the production company booked. But the founders said they will be adding more ticket opportunities this week, including an event on Halloween.

Event attendees will be given a QR code upon checkout, the co-founders said.

“All of our payment processes are managed via Payment Card Industry-certified third parties, ensuring the checkout process is secure and regulated,”  Banjade said. In the future, the co-founders also want to accept cryptocurrency, PayPal and other forms of payment for tickets.

Soon, TicketFam will unveil a new user interface and features, including a rewards system and game, which Banjade and Shahbazi declined to provide more details on.

Within the next five years, the young entrepreneurs said they hope to catch the attention of competitors and maneuver into a position of power to challenge the status quo and become a main player in the ticket sales industry.

When it comes to costs for artists and event organizers, they do not have a set cost, Banjade said. Instead, they are competitive and will match the price of any competitor until they establish themselves in the ticket sales industry.

“As young entrepreneurs, you’ve just gotta keep trying,” Banjade said.

Photo courtesy TicketFam 

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