Maintenance, Cleaning Workers and Others Get New Help When Buildings or Contracts Change Hands

WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER. From the Westchester County Board of Legislators and SEIU 32BJ. September 16, 2019:

On Monday night, the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted on a bi-partisan basis, 16-1, to strengthen a law protecting building service workers like cleaning staff and maintenance personal, who face displacement when building ownership or service contracts change hands.

The Displaced Service Employees Protection Law was originally passed also by a vote of 16-1 in 2013. It created a required transition period, during which new employers must offer workers the chance to remain on the job. It also created a time frame for those offers and for that transitional employment, and created limits on the size of contractors who are covered.

The changes passed Monday lower the threshold for covered contractors from 15 to 5 employees and extend the transitional employment period from 60 days to 90 days.

The SEIU issued this statement: “The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed an amendment to the Displaced Service Employees Protection Law to further prevent shady contractors from leaving workers jobless. That is what happened in White Plains exactly a year ago, when a new building owner let go of five loyal cleaners at 1 & 3 Barker Street. The county’s displaced worker law, passed in 2013, was intended to guarantee such workers a temporary period of employment after a contract changed hands at medium and large commercial buildings, if the contractor had 15 or more employees.

But the new owners of 1 & 3 Barker brought in a contractor whose size and identity still remains hidden from both the former employees and the union that represents them, 32BJ SEIU.

“It was hard for the employees to enforce their rights,” said 32BJ SEIU Assistant to the President Lenore Friedlaender in testimony before the Board of Legislators this evening. “We didn’t know the name of the new employer and we could not establish that the new employer had 15 or more employees…These amendments would strengthen the existing law, insure a more level playing field for responsible employers, and provide more transparency when service contracts change.”

In addition, there are expanded requirements for information sharing to ensure that workers know in a timely manner precisely whom they must communicate with at the new employer.

Leg. Catherine Borgia (D -Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill), one of the co-sponsors, said, “Since 2013, it became clear that there were provisions that needed to change.  We needed to prevent employers from making an end run around the spirit of the law by using small companies, or avoiding their obligations by not being sufficiently transparent in their communications with workers.  We want to make sure the law does what it was intended to do — protect working families in Westchester.”

Another co-sponsor, Leg. Kitley Covill (D – Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers) said,

“This law is about protecting people who, through no fault of their own, find their livelihoods threated. With the changes we’ve passed, these hard working people will now have a longer time to find new work or better yet to maybe make the case for themselves to their new employers, more people will be covered by the law, and new employers won’t be hidden behind a string of names, address and legal entities. We want to make sure service workers in Westchester County are getting a fair shake.”

Co-sponsor Leg. David Tubiolo (D – Mount Vernon, Yonkers) said,

“Today, we rectify the loopholes to stop corporate greed from taking advantage of working people. With our amendments, service workers will be reassured that they can’t just be displaced, because a company wants to make an insignificant profit. Protecting working people is part of our identity, being just and fair, but is also good government in action”.

Lenore Friedlaender, Assistant to the President of 32BJ SEIU and head of the union in the Hudson Valley, said, “When employers try to circumvent the intent of the law in an effort to reduce wages and benefits it destabilizes the playing field and creates a destructive race to the bottom. Workers wages, benefits and job security suffer as a result.”

“We all understand that our jobs could change very suddenly, if an owner of a building changes the contractor. I have seen it happen to friends of mine,” said Maria Trejo a cleaner at the BOSCES School in Valhalla and a member of 32BJ. “That is why we first passed the Displaced Worker Law. But we need to make that law stronger. We need to make sure that new contractors don’t hide, and it’s important that small contractors follow the rules just like big contractors.”

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