Baltimore MD May 15 2017 Workers such as food servers, office cleaners and security guards would keep their jobs when service contracts change hands at Baltimore hotels, universities and other facilities, under a proposal making its way through the City Council.
The bill requires an incoming contractor to retain the existing workforce for at least a 90-day transition period. Backers say it would protect thousands of city workers from losing jobs on short notice or being forced to reapply for their own positions.
Similar laws have been enacted in Montgomery County, California and at least 12 cities, including Philadelphia and New York and Washington.
"When people lose a job and haven't been able to save up much, it's an immediate loss of income," said Roxie Herbekian, president of Unite Here Local 7, which represents hospitality workers in food service and other jobs. "I've seen people end up being homeless because they didn't have the resources to become unemployed for a couple of paycheck cycles. All contract workers are at risk for this to happen, and it has nothing to do with how well someone's doing their job."
Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, the bill's sponsor, said the city's service workers, including many who live in her East Baltimore district, shouldn't have to worry about losing a job just because of a change in management. Those who are not retained after the 90-day period at least would have time to look for a new job, she said.
"We're just saying before you come in and make changes, find out how it works," said Sneed, who said she has strong support on the council for the bill. "We are pro-business. We ultimately want to keep people employed so these folks won't be put out with a minute's notice."
The bill, which is up for a hearing before the council's labor committee on Thursday, covers workers in security, janitorial, building maintenance and food service jobs at universities, convention centers, stadiums, residential and commercial buildings, industrial facilities, distribution centers and the casino. During the three-month transition period, workers can be fired only for cause, not just to be replaced.
A spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh said Friday that the mayor is withholding judgment on the proposal until after the council acts on the bill.
"The mayor's final determination will rest upon what she believes to be in the best interest of the residents of Baltimore," Anthony McCarthy said.
One economist warned that such an ordinance could end up costing jobs, rather then protecting them. Making it more expensive to hire people leads to increased unemployment, said Stephen J.K. Walters, an economics professor at Loyola University Maryland.
"It's anti-competitive, and it doesn't help the job creation problems here in Baltimore," Walters said.
Such proposals, he said, are akin to telling consumers looking to buy from someone more competitively priced that, "Oh, for the next three months, you have to stay with the old person because we say so."
Several food service providers in Baltimore either declined comment on the bill or could not be reached. A spokesman for Delaware North declined to comment.
Karen Cutler, a spokeswoman for Aramark, said in an email that the food service contractor had no comment other than "We would comply with the law if this ordinance is passed in Baltimore just like any other city/county/state where we operate."
Such job losses can be sudden, a scary prospect for workers.
Vonzella Barnes, 47, worries that she could lose her job of three years cleaning at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore if the contract changes hands. In 2015, she saw nine other cleaners working for a different contractor lose their jobs because of such a change.
"They were not given notice," she said. "Those employees had kids, they had houses, some had cars. Some became unable to pay their rent. ... To me, it's very scary. that's how they fed their children and paid their bills."
Angela Featherstone, 38, lost her job as a security guard at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 2009 after the company she worked for lost its contract.
"I was expecting the new company would come in and pick us up but they didn't," said Featherstone, who was out of work for a year after that. "It's hurtful to know you've lost your job and have to go somewhere else. It's hard."
Featherstone eventually landed a job, back at Camden Yards, this time in food service. She still works at the stadium in catering.
Jaime Contreras, vice president of SEIU 32BJ, which represents security guards and office cleaners, said similar laws elsewhere have stabilized the workforce rather than hurting employers.
"What it really does is protect workers who have been in a place a number of years when building owners or contractors want to save a penny and want to do it on the workers' backs," Contreras said. "Workers should at least have a chance to prove they can do the work before they bring in a new crew."