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Displaced Workers Bill Passes In Montgomery County

Government workers express support for contentious bill

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The Montgomery County Council narrowly passed a contentious bill that extends protections to temporary and low-wage workers.

Contract workers such as janitors and cafeteria workers will now get to stay on the job for 90 days after an employer terminates their agreement with the worker's contractor. The bill's supporters say it offers protections to workers that have very few and are most susceptible to swift and sudden market changes.

Opponents, like Councilman George Leventhal, say the measure puts unnecessary restrictions on employers. During debate on the bill Tuesday that ended in a 5-4 vote in favor of the bill, Leventhal remarked that "the fix was in" to get it passed. He was referring to the local SEIU chapter, saying the bill was tailored almost exclusively to cover the union's workers in the county.

"There are many low-wage workers who struggle with uncertainty in their jobs, and then they lose their jobs, but those who are fortunate enough to be represented by this one particular union, they are now protected under our human rights ordinance," says Leventhal. "I think that creates disparities in the workforce."

Jaime Contreras of local SEIU 32BJ disputed Leventhal's account.

"Frankly, this is a long overdue protection that workers in the county should have," says Contrerars. "It doesn't just protect SEIU 32BJ members, it protects hospital workers, food service workers, and a lot of other people who are not necessarily represented by SEIU quite yet."

Gino Renne heads the union for county government employees. His members packed the council chamber for the vote, showing they supported the contract workers' measure, but also that they would like the same protections extended to them.

Renne met with the SEIU local after the vote in the council building's cafeteria, trying to smooth over any hard feelings that may have surfaced between the two unions in the lead-up to the vote, as well as to ask for their support.

"To be quite candid, the last three years we have been fighting for our survival," says Rinne. "Now that things have settled down somewhat, we can tee up some other priorities."

Supporters of the measure say temporary workers are the most susceptible to sudden market changes that can lead to job loss and point to many major cities like D.C. that have enacted similar legislation without major incident.

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