Business Community Opposes 30-Hour Week Mandate for Service Workers

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County Council legislation under review is aimed at ensuring employer-provided health insurance

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Service workers from the 20,000-member union SEIU 32BJ hold a rally in Bethesda on June 14

Photo courtesy of Julie Karant

Montgomery County business groups are opposing a bill before the County Council that would set a minimum 30-hour work week for service employees at large private sector companies.

The bill, introduced last month by council member Hans Riemer, is designed to increase the number of workers who would be eligible for employer-provided health insurance as mandated under the Affordable Care Act. The federal law requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers to offer insurance coverage. “Full time” is defined as working at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month.

During a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, said the bill “takes Montgomery County backwards,” because simple math dictates that businesses will employ fewer workers if the required shifts are longer.

“That’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea. That’s what happens. People will lose their jobs, and that’s often not talked about,” she said.

Members of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington trade group were on hand at the hearing.

One member, Bryant Foulger, the managing principal at the real estate firm Foulger-Pratt Companies, said the legislation could increase operating costs by 10% to 15%, and the burden would likely be shared by building tenants, and some would likely consider relocating.

“This leads to a competitive disadvantage for the buildings affected by this legislation,” Foulger said.

AOBA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Nicola Whiteman said in an interview as many as half of some affected county building workers could lose their jobs.

“As the hours increase, they’ll have to cut back. The difference between Montgomery County and D.C. is that the typical work week is about three to four hours, and in D.C. it’s five, so it’s a much more significant bump to go from three to four hours to a six-hour shift. And then some buildings may need to go to an eight-hour shift, and that’s where you’re going to see at least a 50% drop-off in workers,” she said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, service employees testified that they are single parents with children, or must take care of ailing family members. Guaranteed employer-provided health insurance, they argued, is essential to improving their lives.

Maria Naranjo, of the region’s chapter of SEIU 32BJ, a service workers union that represents 20,000 employees, said the bill is an “example of smart and effective local leadership.”

“This will mean that more workers will get health care,” Naranjo said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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