The Displaced Worker Protection Act

Today, the Council passed the Displaced Worker Protection Act, a bill to help the most vulnerable members of our workforce. I was proud to co-sponsor and vote for this legislation because it provides a modest level of stability for those who need it most, without imposing too heavy a burden on their employers. I want to thank Councilmember Valerie Ervin for her leadership on this issue.

The bill provides that low-wage building service workers — the employees that clean our bathrooms, shovel our sidewalks, and keep our offices secure — cannot be fired without cause for 90 days when a building changes contractors. These are people who go to work every day; many work more than one job just to make ends meet. Low wages and limited benefits mean that these employees don’t have savings to draw on in an emergency, and sudden termination can leave them and their families without any way to support themselves.

President Obama issued an Executive Order applying this protection to employees of federal contractors less than two weeks after he took office in 2009. Similar legislation has already been successful in:

  • Washington DC
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • San Francisco
  • Providence

In each case, the evidence shows that these provisions help low wage employees without stunting local economies or pushing businesses into other jurisdictions.

I understand and respect those who believe this measure is too intrusive or that it might damage our economy. I’ve received a lot of correspondence about this bill — both for and against. I’m grateful for the input of both sides.

But I have also received correspondence on this bill that relied on incendiary language and vague accusations to demonize low wage workers in our community, rather than constructive arguments. For example, one email I received urged me to vote “Hell No” on this bill because, it claimed, most low wage workers are “illegal aliens.” The emailed continued:

Workers are sometimes fired within hours after a new contractor comes in, creating instability and hardship for their children and families. I have no problem with this.

Clearly, this is the sentiment of one individual, and most of this bill’s opponents oppose it for entirely legitimate reasons. And I have seen day after day serving on this Council that every one of my fellow Councilmembers are here with the best intentions to fight against “creating instability and hardship for … children and families.” But this kind of rhetoric pops up every time we consider greater protections for those who are the most vulnerable in our society, and I believe it is important to highlight and refute it.

When I ran for this office, I promised to stand up for all of my constituents — rich and poor; black, white and brown; gay and straight; east-county, mid-county, and up-county. I believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, the government should play a role to make sure you have the opportunity to make a better life for yourself and your family. All too often, people look at service employees as disposable — that we can replace one worker with another and no one would notice. But I notice. The people protected by this bill are mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, people who work the graveyard shift cleaning toilets, then take 3 buses to a second job so they can put food on the table and send their kids to college. And I am proud that, with the passage of this bill, when service workers are summarily terminated without some modicum of notice or cause, Montgomery County’s government will notice too.