Striking sanitation workers picket Potomac Disposal in Gaithersburg, Md., in 2013. A bill passed by the Montgomery County Council allows for labor peace agreements to avoid such strikes. (Jared Soares/For The Washington Post)

The Montgomery County Council approved legislation Tuesday that would guarantee raises for contract workers who haul trash and recycling whenever there are pay increases for unionized county service employees.

The labor-backed bill sparked concern about costs and competitiveness from the administration of outgoing County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), while supporters said it would avoid disruptive trash strikes and boost low-paid workers.

It was sponsored by council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large), who is running to succeed Leggett, and council member Tom Hucker (D-Silver Spring). The lone vote against the bill came from council member Nancy Floreen (I-At Large), who along with Republican Robin Ficker also is seeking the county executive’s seat.

The legislation allows county officials to require trash-hauling contracts to include “labor peace agreements” — pacts to resolve labor disputes through arbitration, not strikes or lockouts that could disrupt service, which happened in Montgomery, Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction, in 2013 and 2014. It also requires the county to increase pay for trash, recycling and yard waste contractors up to the increase unionized county service workers receive.

The council approved three amendments to the bill proposed by council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large). One amendment says wage increases are guaranteed for all trash and recycling contracts, regardless of whether there is a labor peace agreement in place. The others require the county to consider the effect on competition before requiring a labor peace agreement in a contract, and a mandate that contractors must pass on the wage increase to their workers.

“On balance, I think this bill is a little better than it was, and I think it’s a good-faith effort to address a real need,” Leventhal said.


Montgomery County Council members Marc Elrich (D), left, and Nancy Floreen (I), right, are both running for county executive. They disagreed on a labor peace bill passed by the council on Monday, with Floreen casting the only vote against the legislation. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Council vice president Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty), who co-sponsored the bill along with council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), called the bill “a way to provide some type of appropriate compensation and not burden those contractors who operate on a very, very tight margin.”

But Floreen said she did not think the measure was responsible or necessary. “At the end of the day, you’re just building in additional costs and eliminating the opportunity for competition, and it doesn’t necessarily get our residents better service,” she said.

The bill was pushed by the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, which represents about two-thirds of the private trash hauling workers used by the county. The group asked candidates in its endorsement questionnaire whether they would support such legislation. LIUNA endorsed Elrich, Hucker and Navarro, but did not make an endorsement in Rice’s race.

In a memo to council president Hans Riemer (D-At Large) Monday, the heads of the county’s departments of procurement and environmental protection said the bill would increase costs while reducing competition. Leggett wrote to the council last month with concerns about contracting costs, which even without the bill have recently increased more than 30 percent for trash and recycling — from $23.1 million in fiscal 2018 to $30.8 million in fiscal 2019.

Elrich said the pay increases would pale in comparison.

“We’re quibbling over what are pretty small wages,” Elrich said. “This should stabilize people’s willingness to bid here.”

Trash contractors still would be able to seek increases from the county to cover other costs, such as fuel.

Leggett said he would sign the legislation, adding that his “major concerns were addressed” by Leventhal’s amendments.

“By making the potential increases available to all haulers it maintains competition within the entire industry, which should drive down cost,” Leggett said.

The council vote was applauded by about a dozen representatives of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, which represents county service workers, who were in the audience.

Lisa Blackwell-Brown, MCGEO’s associate coordinator of field services, said she and her colleagues were there to support LIUNA and its workers.

“The pie is big enough for everyone — this bill ensures they get a piece of it,” she said.