A bill scheduled to be introduced next week by Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro would require businesses who contract with the county to provide affordable health insurance for workers or a cash benefit that would allow workers to buy their own insurance.
Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said she plans to introduce the bill at the council’s Feb. 4 meeting.
The bill would amend the county’s living wage law to require contractors and subcontractors who are subject to that law to provide affordable health insurance or an hourly “health benefit” to let employees buy insurance on their own.
It would apply to new contracts and would not require the county to rebid existing contacts, according to Navarro’s letter.
But it would allow the county to modify existing long-term contracts that don’t include affordable health insurance to cover the cost of providing insurance to full-time employees of up to $4,000 per year.
The county’s living wage law requires contractors to pay employees at least $13.95 an hour, which totals just below $30,0000 a year for a full-time employee.
“Anyone who works a full-time job should be able to afford health insurance,” Navarro wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to her colleagues on the council.
The current living wage law allows contractors to pay below the living wage if they provide health insurance.
But Navarro said that out of about 400 contractors to whom the living wage applies, only one claims the health care credit.
“As a local government, we may not be able to shoulder the burden of providing healthcare to all residents, but we can at least ensure that all employees that perform services for the County have access to affordable health insurance,” Navarro wrote in the letter to her colleagues.
She said the measure was partially inspired by situations in the fall in which workers at two of the companies that provide trash pick-up for the county were part of labor disputes partially involving workers’ desire for affordable health care.
Workers at Gaithersburg’s Potomac Disposal reached an agreement with the company’s management after a 10-day strike. The agreement included a pay raise for workers, one paid holiday and sick and vacation days for workers, but the sides were not able to agree on a plan to provide affordable health care.
Workers at Laurel’s Unity Disposal and Recycling staged a one-day walkout on Jan. 21 over what they said was management’s refusal to acknowledge the workers’ desire to form a union to help negotiate a new contract.
Workers are seeking better wages and working conditions and affordable health care.
Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park, who earlier this year sponsored a bill raising the county’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, said he’s interested in Navarro’s bill but hadn’t seen it yet wants to know how it fits into the living wage law.
The council would have to decide what is a reasonable price for insurance, Elrich said.
Navarro’s bill would require health plans to meet the affordability definition in the federal Affordable Care Act, which defines affordable coverage as that in which an individual’s share of an annual premium for self-coverage is no more than 9.5 percent of their annual household income.
“I’m interested, but I have to be sure it’s going to work,” Elrich said.