September 16, 2012

We agree with Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-District 5] and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) that residents of Montgomery County “who work hard at tough jobs in a low-wage world” warrant a “special salute” [“A measure of security for some of Montgomery’s lowest-paid workers,” Local Opinions, Sept. 2].

We do not agree with enacting legislation that makes county government an extension of the Service Employees International Union in its efforts to organize new workers. By doing so, the council would be telling one small subset of unskilled workers who happen to fit into the Displaced Service Workers bill’s union-designed scope that they deserve extended employment after their employer loses a contract, but no one else does.

Our organizations and the county’s other major chambers of commerce — including Gaithersburg-Germantown, Silver Spring and Montgomery County — oppose the bill. It is an extraordinary departure from employment law, turning the long-prevailing employment-at-will doctrine on its head. Under the bill, when a service contract is won via competitive bid, the new contractor must hire and retain every employee of the previous contractor for at least 90 days. So much for an employer’s right to decide who will work for it.

Second, it impairs the ability of service providers to maintain competitive advantages achieved through stringent employee performance standards and other methods. Putting a contract out for bid is an effective means of securing improvements the current contractor has been unable or unwilling to make. This is not a bad thing. Rather, it is a common element of our nation’s dynamic economy that gives the guy with a better approach a chance to show what he can do. It is a bad thing, though, to undermine these entrepreneurs’ ability to compete by requiring them to take on a workforce not of their choosing and injecting uncertainty about whether they can, in those critical first 90 days, apply the hiring standards, wages and benefits that their bid was premised on without inviting a human rights complaint or union demonstration.

The bill’s proponents have provided no facts showing the need for it in Montgomery County. The record contains no evidence regarding the net number of workers affected or how many are retained by the new contractor or are placed at other locations by their present employer. Yet, council members are poised to enact a law their business constituents have advised will have a disruptive effect on hundreds of private contracts.

After his colleagues voted the bill out of committee, council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) had this to say:

“I just can’t go along with this selective legislation that so heavily favors the interests of one union. Furthermore, I am very concerned by the precedent set when county government tells private employers who they must hire and who they must retain on the payroll. At a time when Montgomery County is suffering the effects of a shrinking tax base, I believe this legislation sounds the wrong signal regarding our county’s desire to attract new jobs and investment.”

A unified business community concurs.

Shaun Pharr, Washington

Ginanne M. Italiano, Bethesda

The writers are, respectively, senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington and president and chief executive of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.