Morning Notes

Business Robbed in Reston — A man robbed the Exxon gas station on 11854 Sunrise Valley Drive on Nov. 1 one minute after midnight. No injuries were reported. [Fairfax County Police Department]

New Members for Lake Anne Board — Lake Anne property owners voted in a trio of new candidates who hope to turn around the beleaguered condominium association, which has been bogged down by politics and infighting. [Reston Patch]

Good News for Unemployment Rate — The county’s unemployment rate declined to 2.7 percent in September and appears to be approaching pre-COVID levels. [Sun Gazette]

Photo by Ray Copson

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The Herndon Police Department faces a storyline similar to that experienced by law enforcement agencies statewide and throughout the country. Police officers are leaving and staff shortages are reaching historic highs.

This year, the police department is short 10 officers of its force of 55 sworn officers, a staffing shortage that is “significantly higher than in years past,” according to police chief Maggie DeBoard. The issue has escalated over the last two years as more officers leave for non-law enforcement-related career changes or early retirement. 

This has been due largely to the negative portrayal of our profession by the media, efforts at defunding the police, legislative efforts that have made our job more difficult and more dangerous, and the targeting of law enforcement officers,” she said.

DeBoard says that shortages have significantly hampered the police department’s ability to conductive proactive policing and take part in prevention programs.

The Fairfax County Police Department and other law enforcement agencies face similar staffing shortages. Agencies are also competing with each other to attract and retain candidates.

While the police department did not release specific compensation information, an HPD spokesperson said that Herndon’s benefits, pay and employee perks are on par with neighboring agencies.

The police department is currently conducting a pay parity study in order to ensure its compensation package is competitive and properly compensates officers when they are promoted or given additional responsibilities.

While we typically don’t lose officers to neighboring agencies, we thrive on hiring sworn officers from other agencies who are looking for a change and are attracted to what the Herndon Police Department has to offer,”  she said.

HPD has adjusted its shift configuration in order to account for limited sworn officers.

“We continue to ensure we are fully responsive, however, to emergency calls for service at all time.’ The spokesperson declined to specify how shifts are changed for safety and tactical reasons.

“Our goal is to continue to make the Herndon Police Department a desirable place to work so that we remain highly attractive to new hires due to our positive culture and caring and supportive community,” she added.

Just yesterday, the police department put out a call for applicants. The social media post touted the police department’s take-home car program, in-house dry cleaning, and the availability of a town prosecutor for traffic and misdemeanor crimes.

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Dessert and smoothie shops in Reston Town Center are in need of workers, with one still keeping hours scaled back due to staffing needs.

One store remains operating at a reduced-hours schedule: Pitango, which makes gelato and sorbets, is open from 4 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We would like to be open daily, from early morning for coffee customers to late evening for gelato,” owner Noah Dan said in an email. “We are actively seeking new employees but it has been very slow-going.”

The family-owned business looks to begin to open daily as soon as possible, it says on its website. A hiring sign and notices to customers are posted on its entrance.

The notices state that it will return to daily operations as soon as it hires and trains new employees, and they thank customers for supporting the business.

Other shops reported similar issues. Ice-cream customers may have noticed Ben and Jerry’s temporarily reduce its schedule, but a manager said a shift lead will bring its hours back to normal. It currently has around six employees, though, which was less than the dozen workers or so it had last year.

At Playa Bowls, store manager Isabella Heffel noted the location’s front door has a sign encouraging people to apply and specifically asks for those with daytime availability.

She said the store has connected with colleges but has found the hiring to be tough. The store has around 30 workers, though, allowing it to maintain a full schedule, Heffel said.

The unemployment rate for 16 and 17-year-olds, seasonally adjusted, had been improving since January, reaching as low as 8.9% as of May 1 before rising to 9.6%, 9.7% and 11.6% in coming months. It eventually landed on 11.4% as of Sept. 1, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Like the rest of the country and world, teen workers weren’t immune to reductions in the workforce during the pandemic, being especially hit last year starting in March as restaurants and retail stores closed due to state shutdowns.

But it’s still one of the best times in decades to be a teenage worker. Prior to this year, unemployment for the age group hasn’t been this low since 1957.

The restaurant industry has faced a labor shortage that has put pressure on an already strained segment of the economy — not just teenage workers.

A Goldman Sachs survey from last month found that 87% of small businesses are finding it difficult to recruit qualified candidates for open positions, and most say their workforce challenges have worsened since before the pandemic.

The survey, involving 1,145 participants from across the U.S., found Black-owned small businesses have also been slower to recover to pre-pandemic employment levels.

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Morning Notes

Boating on Lake Anne (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Fairfax County Sees Uptick in Unemployment — “Unemployment rates across Fairfax County and Northern Virginia ticked back up above 4 percent in June…which likely is a return to more seasonal ups and downs than a retreat from gains made in the post-COVID era. With 595,420 county residents in the civilian workforce and 25,225 on the hunt for jobs, Fairfax County’s unemployment rate for June stood at 4.1 percent, according to figures reported July 28 by the Virginia Employment Commission.” [Sun Gazette]

Reports of Sick Birds in Virginia Declining — “After Virginia and other states began receiving reports of a mysterious illness sickening or killing birds in late May, reports are starting to go down. However, the cause of the birds’ illness and deaths remains unknown…From May 23 to June 30, the most reports have occurred in Fairfax and Arlington Counties, according to a map of reports.” [Patch]

Thousands of Job Seekers Used County Website — “Just over one year after the official launch of its workinnorthernvirginia.com website and accompanying talent initiative funded by the Fairfax County government, the site created by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) has logged more than 483,000 visitors and 72,000 job views. The website connects a new and diverse talent pool — in Northern Virginia and in key target markets such as the Bay Area and New York City — with companies in the region.” [FCEDA]

Dog Paddle Events Coming to Reston Pools — Reston Association’s annual Dog Paddle will return in August, giving pups a chance to play in its swimming pools. There will be three events in August and one in September. Registration is now open with a $12 fee for RA members and a $20 fee for non-members. [RA/Twitter]

via vantagehill/Flickr

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The number of unemployed Virginians increased from 145,294 in March 2020 to 482,111 in April 2020 causing unemployment insurance claims to increase ten-fold within a month! In addition to the rising number of unemployed, Congress created several temporary programs to extend unemployment insurance benefits and expand them to many previously ineligible workers. Since those federal programs are administered by the states, the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) was overwhelmed with claims. In the fall of 2020 VEC ranked lowest nationwide for timeliness in processing unemployment insurance claims that required further review. Citizens were understandably frustrated and upset with a process that has left some without benefits for many months. My office, along with that of other legislators, was deluged with e-mails and calls from those desperately seeking help. My legislative assistant has put in many extra hours helping constituents with their filings and follow up.

A review of unemployment rates throughout the Commonwealth reveals that the rise in unemployment was statewide with areas having a high rate of unemployment going into the pandemic getting hit the hardest, but more prosperous areas got hit as well. According to data on the VEC website, the rate of unemployment for March 2021, the last period for which numbers are available, ranged from a low of 3.2 percent in Madison County, an agricultural area in the center of the state, to a high of 12.9 percent in Petersburg City, one of the poorest areas in the state. On the low end of the unemployment numbers, Falls Church City was number 2 with a rate of 3.4 percent, and Fairfax County was 39th lowest at a rate of 4.6 percent. On the high end, Richmond was 7.1 percent, and the cities in the Hampton Roads region including Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hopewell ranged from 7.1 percent to 10.0 percent, just below Petersburg City.

The COVID-19 relief checks were very helpful in slowing the slide of the economy toward recession levels of unemployment. The additional funding now being debated in the Congress for infrastructure and additional relief will shore up the economy further until the normal activity of the economy returns with the end of the pandemic. I will leave to economists to debate the amount of stimulus needed to restore the economy, but I can say that the federal money that has flowed into the state has prevented widespread reductions in staff and services that would have been necessary without that funding.

For those who have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic I can only offer my sympathy and compassion for what you have had to endure. I continue to be impressed with the resiliency of individuals and communities in times of challenge like these. The response of state government in this pandemic was unsatisfactory. True the bureaucracy was swamped with requests, but we should have been quicker to respond. True our existing technology was not up to the demand, but the technology that was to have been upgraded should have been done years ago. As Chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission (JLARC), I promise that the results of the study that we are undertaking of VEC will address current concerns and provide recommendations to prevent this kind of situation from arising again!

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Morning Notes

Virginia to Change Vaccine Scheduling Systems — Fairfax County residents will finally follow the same approach to obtaining COVID-19 vaccine appointments as the rest of the state, as the Virginia Department of Health says its statewide system will also be retired on Sunday (April 18) in favor of self-scheduling through Vaccine Finder. [Patch]

Lawsuit Filed over Virginia’s Unemployment Benefits — “Several legal groups filed a federal class-action suit on Thursday against the Virginia Employment Commission for its failure to reach residents with unemployment benefits, and abruptly cutting off payments to others without explanation.” [DCist]

Fish Released into Lake Thoreau — Reston Association stocked Lake Thoreau with 80 triploid grass carp this past Sunday (April 18). RA says that the fish are part of its plan to “help manage aquatic plants such as hydrilla” in the lake and must be released if caught while fishing. [RA/Twitter]

Reston Nonprofit to Give Free Food to Those in NeedCornerstones will hold a free food distribution event tomorrow (Saturday) in the parking lot of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services building at Lake Anne (11484 Washington Plaza West). The grocery bags will contain toiletries as well as fresh produce, and they will be distributed from 10 a.m. to noon, though spaces are limited. [Lake Anne Elementary School]

Hunter Mill District Bike Tour Sold Out — Tickets for the inaugural Tour de Hunter Mill sold out yesterday. Scheduled for May 15, the event will take cyclists on a scenic tour from Reston to Vienna and back, but attendance was capped at 150 riders to ensure social distancing. [Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Wind Advisory In Effect Today — The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Gusty windows could blow around unsecured objects and some power outages may be expected. [NWS]

Work on Lake Anne Garden Plot Begins — Reston Association is installing a 10-foot black vinyl fence around the perimeter of the garden. The project is expected to be completed within two weeks. [RA]

Fairfax County Jobless Rates Dip — The county’s unemployment rate fell nearly half a half-percent from December to January as part of an ongoing but slow trend toward recovery. [Sun Gazette]

Brabrand to Host Town Hall — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will host a virtual town hall meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Monday, April 12. He plans to discuss Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest guidance of graduations and other school events. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County should provide hazard pay to all local government workers, a union that represents more than 2,000 general county employees argues.

The county is currently considering a proposal to provide a one-time $1,500 hazard pay bonus to workers who are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. Staff say about 4,000 employees would be eligible for the benefit.

However, SEIU Virginia 512 — the Fairfax County government employees’ union — says the bonus should be available to all workers, because they have all taken risks and been forced to adapt so the county can keep providing essential services during the pandemic.

As of yesterday (Wednesday), a petition urging Fairfax County supervisors to extend $1,500 hazard pay bonuses to all staff has been signed by nearly 1,000 workers, with more signatures expected to come, according to SEIU Senior Communications Specialist Rachel Mann.

“We’ve all been impacted by what’s going on. Whether we are doing our assigned work or not, we are still working,” SEIU Virginia 512 Executive Board President Tammie Wondong said. “…We are continuing to keep Fairfax County running. Residents are being continually served. So, that’s why everyone needs to have hazard pay.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors was initially scheduled to vote on the proposed plan on Tuesday (Jan. 26), but the decision was postponed after Chairman Jeff McKay asked staff to continue discussions with the union and other workers’ groups.

Under the staff plan, hazard pay would go to workers whose risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is rated “high” or “very high” by the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) risk assessment. It would also be limited to merit or career positions.

Fairfax County intends to pay for the bonuses using CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds. Federal guidelines, however, dictate that CARES Act money can only be used for hazard pay if an employee is performing duties that involve physical hardship related to COVID-19 response efforts.

In other words, localities must establish criteria for hazard pay eligibility to use CARES relief funds, Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson told the board on Jan. 12.

The county could use its own funds to extend hazard pay to more workers, but McKay suggests employees should temper their expectations for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

“Based on the economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic, it will be challenging to address many of the Board’s priorities in the FY2022 [budget],” McKay said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “The budget is still early stages and we are exploring what options are available, but it is unlikely we would have the resources to increase hazard pay funding in the next budget cycle.”

SEIU Virginia 512 supports the amount of the proposed bonus, which came out of talks between workers’ groups and county staff, but the union argues restricting hazard pay to select positions and agencies ignores the risks all employees face when doing their jobs.

For instance, a sanitation worker may not typically come into direct contact with the residents whose trash they collect, but their job still requires them to regularly go out into the community.

“You don’t know who you’re passing, and you don’t know who’s infected. You just don’t know,” Wondong said. “It’s a risk that we take just coming in and out of our homes every day.”

The burden placed on workers who test positive for COVID-19 to prove they contracted the disease through their job could also potentially be a concern.

Further complicating matters, Fairfax County has been reassigning many employees to duties outside their usual purview as some departments have reduced operations and others have ramped up during the pandemic.

Wondong is a social worker for the county’s aging and older adults services division, but she is currently working in a different role for her department, one that allows her to work from home but also normally carries a higher salary than what she’s being paid.

Wondong says hazard pay would not be up for debate if Fairfax County employees had stronger collective bargaining powers to guarantee equitable compensation and working conditions.

“What we believe as a union is that all county workers deserve fairness and equity when it comes to pay and benefits. That’s what we believe,” Wondong said.

Photo via Fairfax County government/Facebook

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People whose employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may now be eligible to receive free job training from the Fairfax County Department of Family Services.

According to a news release published on Nov. 19, DFS will cover up to $1,000 in training costs for individuals who are looking to gain new skills in the high-demand industries of healthcare, information technology, skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education.

Anyone who lost a job due to the impact of COVID-19 and received unemployment benefits on or after Aug. 1 is eligible to apply, along with anyone who was laid off from a full-time job due to COVID-19 and now earns less than $15 per hour working part-time.

The offer of job training support comes as part of a Re-Employing Virginians (REV) initiative launched by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office on Oct. 30.

Funded by $30 million from the federal CARES Act, the REV initiative aims to mitigate the long-term economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing one-time $3,000 scholarships for workforce training.

The funds are being administered by the Virginia Community College System and localities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, which, combined, represented nearly 50 percent of all unemployment claims in the state as of the end of October, according to the governor’s office.

“Investing in programs that help people develop skills in high-demand fields is a win for workers, employers, and our economy,” Northam said. “As we focus on recovering from the impacts of the global pandemic, the new REV initiative will give Virginians the resources they need to get back on their feet and help ensure that our Commonwealth emerges from this public health crisis even stronger than we were before.”

The application deadline for the DFS program is Dec. 8, and training must be completed by Dec. 29.

People interested in applying should contact DFS REV Intake Specialist Ziyoda Crew at 571-536-1979 or email the department at [email protected].

Individuals can also apply for short-term training or certification programs at Northern Virginia Community College by certifying their eligibility for the REV initiative and registering for a training voucher by Dec. 14.

Photo via Bruce Mars/Unsplash

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Friday Morning Notes

Herndon Man Arrested in Assault Case — Davon Anthony Perry, 22, of Herndon was charged with aggravated assault, brandishing a firearm and destruction of property after he turned himself in. Police believe Perry shot a woman he knew with a BB gun multiple times. [Herndon Police Department]

Virtual Career Fairs Connect Job Seekers — “Despite the pandemic, Northern Virginia’s robust job market remains strong–with more than 60,000 job openings in the region, including 34,000 in Fairfax County. But interviewing and hiring can be a challenge because of social-distancing protocols in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) has stepped in with virtual job fairs that connect job-seekers with companies that cannot hold in-person events.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

Second Summer Set Down End in Sight — “Metro tells ABC7 work is going faster than expected at some of the nine stations that shut down this summer as part of its second ‘summer shutdown.’In addition to the entire Silver Line, Metro shut down four Orange Line stations in Virginia back on Memorial Day weekend. The Orange Line stations were shut down in order to do platform reconstruction work.” [WJLA]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Several local businesses and restaurants have laid off workers due to COVID-19 pandemic in recent months.

Businesses filed notices through the Virginia Employment Commission, which requires businesses with more than 100 employees to provide advanced notice of layoffs affecting more than 50 employees or business closings.

In Reston and Herndon, six businesses filed notices, totaling more than 450 layoffs.

Nearly all notices filed with the VEC were attributed to the pandemic. The following is a breakdown of major layoffs since March 1 through today:

Bartaco let go of 175 employees across its Fairfax and Reston locations.

Photo by Chris Gordon/Flickr

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Northern Virginia Unemployment Rate Hits 10 Percent — “A total of 163,158 Northern Virginia residents were unemployed and looking for work during the month, the Virginia Employment reported Wednesday.  That number is based on a survey of households and is different from the number of unemployment claims reported weekly. Over 220,000 regional residents have filed first-time claims for unemployment since the pandemic began in mid-March, but nearly 45% of those have also returned to work.” [Inside NOVA]

IRivet Designs App to Make Employees Feel Safe — “The 12-year-old company, which often builds apps for its clients, has developed a platform to help other businesses transition back to work. MyHealthyWork is a web and mobile application that tracks employees’ self-reported health information, whereabouts and interactions. The product, now a week into its beta phase, is slated to launch by mid-June.” [Washington Business Journal]

County to Offer Free Vaccine Clinics — The county is hosting seven vaccination clinics throughout the health district. Vaccines for children will be offered free of charge. Health officials worry that routine immunization services are being delayed due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements. [Fairfax County Government]

Free Online Summer Arts Program — “Fairfax County Public Schools will offer a free online arts enrichment program for current K-12 students over for five weeks from July 6 to August 7.  A variety of classes will be offered in art, music, theater, and dance.” [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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After a surge of new jobless claims seeking unemployment benefits in April, Fairfax County is seeing a steady decline in initial unemployment claims.

Roughly 5,300 initial unemployment claims were filed in the county for the week of May 16 — a drop from 7,000 during the week of May 2, according to the latest data from the Virginia Employment Commission.

Meanwhile, continued unemployment claims — now at 47,000 for the week of May 16 — are rising less quickly in the county.

The county’s unemployment trends mirror statewide data.

More from the VEC:

For the filing week ending May 16, the figure for seasonally unadjusted initial claims in Virginia was 44,699. The latest claims figure was a decrease of 7,440 claimants from the previous week. The weekly total was the lowest since before the initial spike in unemployment insurance claims during the March 21 filing week.

For the most recent filing week, continued weeks claimed totaled 403,557, up 2.8% from the previous week and 385,380 higher than the 18,177 continued claims from the comparable week last year.

The continued claims total is mainly comprised of those recent initial claimants who continued to file for unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus far, continued claims during the May 16 filing equaled 56% of all initial claims filed during the pandemic. This percentage was a significant drop-off from the previous week.

VEC’s preliminary data indicate that the pandemic has hurt the accommodation and food service industry the most.

Workers in that industry “continued to see the greatest percentage of continued claims for unemployment benefits” for the May 16 filing week, VEC said. “Moreover, claimants in that industry comprised over a quarter of pre-pandemic payroll employment.”

Data and image via Virginia Employment Commission

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Friday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Needs Contact Tracers — “The Virginia Department of Health said Thursday it’s searching for bilingual candidates as it hires 1,300 contact tracers.  It says it will deploy tracking software and enforceable quarantine orders alongside these tracers to more aggressively counter the spread of the virus.”

Design Review Board Meeting Set for Next Week — Reston Association’s Design Review Board will meet on May 27 at 6 p.m. The board is responsible for reviewing additions and changes to different types of Reston properties. [RA]

Weekly Wages Rise in Fairfax County — “The average weekly wage for those working in Fairfax (wherever they may live) stood at $1,735 in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to data reported May 20 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s an increase of 2.1 percent from the same period a year before, below the national growth rate of 3.5 percent (to $1,185).” [Inside NoVa]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County continues to have thousands of unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 7,000 initial unemployment claims were filed in the county for the week of May 2, according to the latest data from the Virginia Employment Commission.

The latest data shows a slow decrease of claims in the county from a spike during the week of April 4. Fairfax County had the largest number of initial claims in Virginia for the May 2 filing week.

“Most areas reported declining numbers of claims compared to the previous week,” the VEC said. “Fairfax reported the largest over-the-week decrease (-2,097).”

Meanwhile, the number of continued claims keeps rising in Fairfax County from nearly 3,000 in late March to 30,000 in mid-April to more than 44,000 during the week of May 2.

The data shows a decrease in the number of claimants from the previous week for Virginia, but the VEC warns that the volume of initial claims “may not return to pre-pandemic levels for some time.”

More data on the trends for initial and continued claims in Virginia:

Data and image via Virginia Employment Commission

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