Contractors lambaste displaced workers bill in Montgomery County -- Gazette.Net


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After years of helping build other commercial landscape companies, David Lindoerfer founded his own business, Inside Out Services, in 2003.

The company is based in Silver Spring, but Lindoerfer said he does not plan to try to win commercial landscaping contracts from Montgomery County — not after the county council narrowly passed legislation Tuesday that would force many companies that win private and public contracts to retain the employees of the previous contractor for 90 days.

“It’s just another law that makes it hard to do business in Montgomery County,” Lindoerfer said.

The Displaced Service Workers bill passed 5-4 and included several amendments, including one proposed by Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who voted against the bill. His amendment deletes a provision that would have forced new contractors to retain employees based on seniority.

The law is the first of its kind in Maryland, although similar laws exist in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Providence, R.I., and New York City, according to county memos. The state legislature considered a similar bill this year, but it did not get out of committee.

The bill, which goes to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) for signing, applies not only to many contracts awarded by Montgomery County, but to many private service contracts that provide security, janitorial, building maintenance, food preparation and nonprofessional health care services. Those include contracts in office buildings of more than 75,000 square feet, apartment complexes with more than 30 units, hospitals, private schools and cultural institutions. Leggett supports the bill.

The measure does not apply to certain businesses, such as restaurants, contractors with fewer than 20 employees, homeowner and condominium associations, and housing cooperatives. The latter groups were exempted in an amendment proposed by Councilman Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, whose district includes one of the county’s largest housing cooperatives, Montgomery Village. Rice was among those supporting the bill.

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

“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,” Contreras said.

Much opposition from business leaders

Leaders of local chambers of commerce, including the Montgomery County, Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Gaithersburg-Germantown and Greater Silver Spring organizations, opposed the bill, as did the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.

“One of the biggest reasons that businesses change contractors is that the quality of the work does not meet expectations,” said Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce. “This bill requires the new contractor to retain the old contractor’s employees who may have been the very reason for the change.”

However, after the law takes effect, contractors still can fire workers for cause, according to Robert H. Drummer, senior legislative attorney for the county council.

It was hard to understand why the bill created so much anxiety in Montgomery when it has worked well in Washington, D.C., for 18 years, said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, the measure’s lead sponsor.

“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.

The bill will apply not just to low-wage workers but ones who make up to $30 per hour, said W. Shaun Pharr, senior vice president of government affairs for the apartment and office building group.

“How does that fit into the ‘low-wage service worker’ that council member Ervin claims this bill is about?” he argued.

Council members who opposed the bill said there were no hard data supporting a change in Montgomery County and they didn’t like a government entity dictating to private employers whom they should hire.

“I do believe the intentions of supporters of this bill are good. I do believe that workers have rights,” Leventhal said. “I simply feel this bill is unwise.”

Also voting against the bill were Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda, Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg and Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park.

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

Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring proposed an amendment that passed, allowing the successor contractor to screen or test workers. An amendment from Rice to exempt food service workers from the bill failed.

kshay@gazette.net; kalexander@gazette.net