Displaced worker bill passes in Montgomery County -- Gazette.Net


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With the exception of those who work for housing associations and cooperatives, service workers in Montgomery County now will have employment protection after their employer’s contract ends.

The County Council voted 5-4 on the measure Tuesday before a packed house of applauding union members, but not before council members debated and passed three amendments to the bill.

Known as the Displaced Service Workers bill, the controversial legislation forces companies that end contracts with service contractors to retain and pay the contractor’s employees for 90 days after the contract ends.

The bill helps a very vulnerable group of workers who fear job loss from unscrupulous employers, said Jaime Contreras, capital area director for 32BJ Service Employees International Union.

SEIU worked with Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, lead sponsor of the legislation, on the bill.

“It’s a long overdue protection that they should have had a long time ago,” Contreras said. “It means that they can now go to work without worrying that the next day there will be a new contractor who is going to displace all of them out of a job.”

Not all councilmembers felt the bill actually would protect workers or was sound policy.

“I honestly think it’s not achieving the end that people in this room think it achieves,” Councilwoman Nancy Floreen said.

Floreen voted against the bill along with Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda and Council members Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg and George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.

“I do believe the intentions of supports of this bill are good. I do believe that workers have rights,” said Leventhal. “I simply feel this bill is unwise, and I will not vote for it.”

Not understanding why the bill created so much anxiety in Montgomery when it has worked well in Washington, D.C., for 18 years, Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said the bill was intended to ensure fairness for lower paid workers to make their lives more secure.

“As a Democrat, I believe, as President Obama does, that vilifying the American worker, undermining unions and arguing that everyone should fend for themselves is not an American value,” she said. “And that is why I am proud to be the lead sponsor of bill 19-12.”

Council members Craig Rice, Hans Riemer and Leventhal all proposed amendments to the bill before passage.

Leventhal was successful in deleting references to seniority in a provision requiring a new contractor, who finds it needs to keep more employees than originally thought, to hire from the pool of workers displaced by the contract change.

His effort to move the enforcement of the act from the Human Rights Commission to the Office of Consumer Protection failed.

An amendment from Rice to exempt food service workers from the bill also failed.

But Rice of Germantown was successful in exempting homeowners and condominium associations and housing cooperatives.

Rice represents District 2, home to the county’s largest housing cooperative, Montgomery Village, which opposed the bill as an undue burden on its associations.

An amendment to permit the successor contractor to screen or test workers proposed by Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring also was approved.

The bill now goes to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) for signing.

kalexander@gazette.net