Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MOCO POLICY WAR: County Council Divided on Protections for Janitors // Chambers of Commerce & Rival Unions Weigh In

UPDATE: Montgomery County Council passes the displaced workers bill in a divided 5-4 vote. See the vote split below.
  • Voting FOR: Valerie Ervin, Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer & Craig Rice. 
  • Voting AGAINST: Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, Phil Andrews & Roger Berliner.

MOCO COUNCIL DEBATES WORKER PROTECTIONS FOR JANITORS - Today, the Montgomery County Council is scheduled to vote on legislation that would grant janitors and other low-wage service workers temporary protections in the event that their employer suddenly terminates their contract. Indeed, it is a common story to hear about janitors and other service workers whose lives are upended after their contracts are suddenly terminated. The proposed MoCo bill would simply provide a 90-day transitional period for the displaced janitors and service workers to stay employed while seeking new employment or transitioning to unemployment.

NOTE: Any workers (ie: bad employees) could still be fired for cause, and the provisions of the law are only temporary. This policy is the law in numerous bastions of "socialism" like D.C., New York, and Los Angeles. In fact, in 2010 the Obama administration created similar temporary protections for federal contractors.

UNFOUNDED HYSTERIA: Not surprisingly, some members of the local business community have declared nuclear war on the "displaced workers" bill. But in truth, Maryland Juice does not think the hysteria matches up with the actual impact of the proposal. Some are again claiming that Montgomery County will look business un-friendly compared to Northern Virginia -- but that seems to be a one-size-fits-all argument for any proposal that regulates business conduct. Nevermind that the District of Columbia has had similar rules regulating displaced worker for eighteen years. Do people therefore believe that over the course of those years, MoCo has been receiving a stampede of businesses fleeing the District's displaced worker law? That seems like questionable logic.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE FOCUS ON COUNCILMEMBERS HANS RIEMER & CRAIG RICE: Now I'm not sure why, but the Chambers of Commerce have decided to target Councilmembers Craig Rice & Hans Riemer to try and oppose the MoCo displaced workers bill. Notably, both Councilmembers are co-sponsors of the legislation. In fact, the bill has the support of the County Executive and was co-sponsored by five of the nine Councilmembers (Valerie Ervin, Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice & Hans Riemer). See the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber Action Alert as one example (excerpt below):
TO:  Members of The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce
Andy Stern, Chair (Andy Stern's Office Furniture)

Do you believe the County government should be able to tell a business who it must hire and who it must keep on the payroll?  Even temporarily?  And, possibly dictate how much they will be paid and what benefits they will receive?  Even if those employees are causing the business to provide sub-par service?

That's exactly what a bill currently before the Montgomery County Council would do, if it is not voted down next Tuesday, September 18.  The so-called "Displaced Workers Legislation" - written by one special interest group, introduced and sponsored by Councilmember Valerie Ervin, and supported by Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro, and Craig Rice - would require all commercial and multi-family residential building owners to assure that any new janitorial, building maintenance, or security contractor has to hire the previous contractor's employees, even if those employees were providing poor service....
If passed, the bill will not only increase the cost of janitorial, maintenance, and security services in commercial and residential buildings, but will lead to higher rents and hinder the ability of managers to provide the best service for their tenants.

You can help stop this bad-for-business bill.  All Councilmembers should be hearing from the business community the impact that this will have on their companies, but as we understand, Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Craig Rice may still be persuaded....

Please contact all members of the County Council (emails and phone numbers below) and if you personally know Councilmembers Riemer and/or Rice, please call them this week and urge them to withdraw their support for the bill....

WHAT THE LAW ACTUALLY SAYS: There is a lot of propaganda surrounding this legislation, as various institutional interests in the County are framing it as another example of anti-business, pro-regulation meddling by the government. Indeed, business lobbyists in Montgomery County are claiming that they will have to hire workers they don't want, rents will rise, and the sky will fall. But the reality is, those claims are very speculative and little evidence exists to validate those claims. There is no doubt that the law would create additional burdens on businesses, but as with most policy matters, there are mitigating concerns to be considered. The County Council staff memo on the displaced worker bill provides the following summary:
COUNCIL STAFF MEMO: The  Bill  would  provide  some  temporary  job protection  for  non-management  service workers when their employer's service contract is terminated.  A service contract is defined as a contract  between  an  awarding  authority  and  a  contractor  to  provide  security, janitorial, building maintenance, food preparation, or non-professional health care services in a facility located in the County which is used as a:

(1)      private school;
(2)      hospital, nursing care facility, or other health care provider;
(3)      institution, such as  a museum,  convention center,  arena,  airport, or music hall;
(4)      multi-family residential building or complex with more than 30 units; or
(5)      commercial  building  or  office  building  occupying  more  than  75,000 square feet.

Property  owners  who  hire  contractors  to  provide  these  services  often  replace  the contractor with little or no notice to the affected service employees.  The successor contractor is not required to retain the  incumbent service workers  and must quickly recruit new employees. This process often results in sudden unemployment for many of these low-wage service workers.
The  Bill  would require  the  terminated  contractor to  give  their service  workers 15 days notice before the contract is terminated.  The Bill would also require the successor contractor to offer to retain the incumbent service workers for a temporary 90-day transition period.  The Bill would permit the successor contractor to hire less than all  of the incumbent workers if they can perform  the  contract  with  fewer  employees.  The  successor  contractor  may  also  release  an incumbent service worker during the 90-day transition period for cause.  The County Executive supports this Bill. 

Laws  providing  similar  protection  for  certain  employees  have  been  enacted  in  other jurisdictions, including the  District of Columbia,  San Francisco, Los  Angeles,  Providence,  and New  York  City

REGIONAL UNITY ON DISPLACED WORKERS LAWS: Notably, bill sponsor Valerie Ervin also co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post explaining the legislation with D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson. The pair of legislators discounted some of the claims about the bill (excerpt below):
VALERIE ERVIN & PHIL MENDELSON: The Displaced Service Workers bill, now before the Montgomery County Council, would ensure that experienced employees in the county are not arbitrarily replaced when a service contract changes hands. A similar law has long been in place in the District....

The District’s law, which has been in place for 18 years, has provided this stability for service workers while creating no noticeable financial difficulties for businesses. Similar laws are in place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Providence, R.I.; and New York, also with no apparent adverse impact. In fact, these cities have enjoyed some of the strongest-performing office markets for a considerable length of time. Contractors in the District report that the law enables them to compete fairly on the quality of their services without hurting employees, a hallmark practice of any responsible contractor.

Service workers and their families are among those who do not share in the overall economic strength of our region. Already, in Montgomery County, 57,000 people are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the food stamp program), up 125 percent in the past four years. Nearly a third of public-school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Almost 120,000 people do not have health insurance. When low-income workers lose their jobs without warning, they often must turn to these programs for help, increasing the costs to government.

COUNTY EMPLOYEES WEIGH IN ON DISPLACED WORKERS BILL (SORT OF): It is also worth noting that the labor union representing County employees (MCGEO) has weighed in strongly on the displaced workers bill, going so far as to stage a rally and launch a video campaign. But rather than simply come out in favor of the bill, MCGEO has also decided to question why privately contracted janitors (represented by a different union - SEIU 32BJ) should get special treatment. In short, they want more protections for government employees too, and they appear to be using this bill to highlight their own labor disputes with the County. See an excerpt from MCGEO's letter to the Council below (excerpt below):
MCGEO: I applaud you for your recent support of the legislation in Montgomery County that would give private sector building service workers much-needed job protections. However, your support begs the question: “Why don’t your own Montgomery County workers deserve the same protections?...”

This is pure hypocrisy. You want to force the private sector to adhere to standards you so far have refused to even recognize or apply to your own workforce?....

Let me be clear; we wholeheartedly support this bill.  However, the rights of both public and private sector workers should be advanced together. You claim to want to protect workers, but the real question is: Are you willing to apply the same types of protections to your own workers?


Gino Renne
President, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO
Vice President, UFCW International Union

To understand the intent of the legislation, you can see the following statements from the bill's lead sponsor: Councilmember Valerie Ervin. She provided the following statement about the bill, and you can also see County news coverage of her effort below:
VALERIE ERVIN: I have served on the Montgomery County Council for almost six years.  In that time, I have come to truly respect and admire the conscientious and hard working members of the Council.  We are all Democrats, and with that designation comes the values and beliefs that make it so.  
With an 18 year track record in the District of Columbia, where the market is booming, I do not understand why this modest accommodation is creating so much anxiety.

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.

This is why I was proud to be the lead sponsor of Bill 19-12, Human Rights and Civil Liberties—Displaced Service Workers.

Our home, the Metropolitan Washington Area, is among the most vibrant and a successful region in the nation; and it is our working class men and women who help make it so.  Many of these people are seldom seen.  Whether its janitors, nurse’s aides, or security guards, they all work hard at tough jobs in a low-wage world.

The Displaced Service Workers bill will ensure that experienced service employees are not arbitrarily replaced when a service contract changes hands.

The District of Columbia law, which has been in place for 18 years, has provided stability for service workers while not unduly burdening the business community.  There are similar laws in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Providence, and New York City, also with no adverse impact.

The Displaced Service Workers bill is about ensuring fundamental fairness for some of our region’s lowest paid employees.  During this time of unprecedented fiscal stress, the bill represents what the District of Columbia and other communities have already shown: a modest and workable way to make their lives more secure.

I want to thank my cosponsors: Council Vice President Nancy Navarro, Marc Elrich, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer, not only for their support on this bill, but for honoring their pledge to working families. 

I also want to recognize the County Executive, who issued a letter of support for this bill, and his staff who worked with me on this bill prior to its introduction.

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