Bill would keep workers for 90 days after contracts end

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Business leaders and a national labor union are battling over a Montgomery County proposal that would force employers to pay workers for up to three months after their contract ends.

The bill would require property owners who hire contractors to retain the employees for 90 days if they dismiss the contractor. If a new contractor is replacing the old one, the new contractor must hire the employees.

Supporters of the bill -- who including SEIU 32BJ, the union that represents service workers -- argue that the bill protects low-wage workers from an unpredictable industry.

"This bill would enact a modest and temporary control that will provide stability to service workers who lives can be irreparably harmed by even short-term income interruptions," said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring and the bill's lead sponsor.

But opponents of the bill -- who include much of the Montgomery County business community -- say the bill takes business decisions out of the businesses' hands.

"The idea that the county should be able to dictate which employees a contractor should hire, philosophically it's not what the government is meant to do," said Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

Co-sponsored by five County Council members, the measure could apply to contractors providing a range of services, from building maintenance to nonprofessional health care, security or food preparation.

Affected properties could include private schools, hospitals, nursing homes, museums, airports, concert halls, convention centers, apartment buildings and office buildings larger than 75,000 square feet.

Both sides have been marshaling support in anticipation of a discussion at a County Council Health and Human Services Committee meeting on Monday.

Councilman and committee Chairman George Leventhal, D-at large, is not a fan of the bill.

"The county is facing lean times, and the days when we could solve every problem and just grow county government in an unlimited way, those days are over," he said. "I understand that SEIU 32BJ represents janitors, but are we going to protect bartenders from getting fired? Are we going to protect cab drivers?"

At Monday's meeting, Leventhal plans to introduce four amendments including one that would change the bill so that it only requires the leaving contractor to notify employees 90 days before the contract ends.

That particular amendment "completely guts the bill," said SEIU spokeswoman Julie Karant.

Though lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday, Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, has removed it from the agenda. Berliner could not be reached Friday for comment. If the bill is voted on, it will not be until after the County Council returns from recess in September.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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