After talking with workers during recent strikes at two garbage-collection companies, Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro is preparing a bill requiring many county contractors to provide affordable health insurance to their employees.
Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring sent a memorandum to other council members on Oct. 30 asking them to consider signing on as co-sponsors.
The bill would amend the county’s living wage law that requires companies that have contracts with the county to pay at least $13.95 an hour.
The change would require county contractors to provide affordable health insurance for employees who work on county contracts for more than 30 hours per week and who make less than twice the living wage.
Navarro is also looking at possible legislation to grant preferences to companies bidding on a county contract if they already provide affordable benefits to their employees.
Both bills would apply to new contracts, as well as existing contracts that are renewed, according to the letter.
Workers at Potomac Disposal in Gaithersburg reached an agreement with the company on Oct. 28 after a 10-day strike.
The agreement provides a pay increase, one holiday, and paid sick and vacation days for workers. The two sides weren’t able to agree on a plan for affordable health insurance.
Workers at Unity Disposal, based in Laurel, also returned to work after an 11-day strike that began after about 70 workers were terminated. The employees had refused to go to work to protest the firing of a coworker who criticized management’s attempts to stop workers from joining a union.
Even the county’s living wage doesn’t provide enough money to buy affordable health care, Navarro said.
Navarro said Thursday that the bill wasn’t finished. She and her staff still were working with the county’s Department of General Services to understand how the regulations would work.
County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Executive Isiah Leggett (D) was still reviewing the proposal Thursday afternoon, and wanted to see what the cost estimates attached to the bill would be.
“Obviously, it’s a worthy goal,” Lacefield said.
Ellen Valentino, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, hadn’t seen the bill, but said it likely would eliminate the ability of small businesses to compete for county contracts.
That would create a more exclusive environment for bigger businesses, and less competition usually means higher contract costs, Valentino said.
“When you inhibit competition like that, generally, it drives up costs,” she said.
Montgomery has been aggressive in trying to create a competitive environment for small businesses to get county contracts, but maintaining that competitiveness is a fine line, she said.
“It’s easy to lose businesses overnight,” she said.
Navarro said she didn’t think the bill would hurt small businesses, since they would build the costs of health insurance into their bids.