Council Mulls Requiring a Full-Time Schedule for Service Workers

Council Mulls Requiring a Full-Time Schedule for Service Workers

Proposal would make janitors, guards and others eligible for employer-provided health insurance

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The Montgomery County Council is considering legislation that would require some larger private sector employers to set a minimum 30-hour work week for janitors, security guards, concierges and other part-time service workers.

The goal is to ensure that more workers can qualify for employer-provided health insurance as mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the federal health care law, employers with 50 full-time employees or more must provide health insurance to full-time workers, who are defined as those who work at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month. The council’s bill, sponsored by Council member Hans Riemer, aims to close the loophole for part-time employees.

Riemer said an estimate from a service workers union that represents 18,000 property service employees in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, found that there are more than 1,000 part-time service workers in Montgomery County who do not receive health insurance through their employers.

“They will often work several part-time jobs, and then without access to full time employment, they’re not eligible for health care or the ACA, and then the county has to step in and provide for what the employer should be offering,” he said.

The proposal is being questioned by business.

“The council should not be able to regulate what a private industry does. What if I only need a cleaning crew for 15 hours a week? Why am I required to pay someone for 30 hours a week if I only need them for 15 hours a week,” said Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

Balcombe said it is a mistake to assume that private employers are intentionally trying to limit workers’ hours to escape the health care law’s employer mandate, and noted that workers can still receive health care through the government. The larger issue, she said, is that private businesses should be able to set their own hours for employees.

“I’m not familiar with the private sector in terms of how long it takes to clean a building. Is 30 hours necessary?” Balcombe said. “If they were required to work 30 hours a week, I don’t know what they would do. So I don’t know how feasible that is.”

Riemer said some service workers have received insurance through the county’s Montgomery Cares program, a nonprofit that works with area clinics to provide subsidized primary care to low-income and uninsured county residents.

Riemer said that while Montgomery Cares serves an important mission, the resource is becoming “strained” due to the number of part-time service workers who are using it.

“It should be a measure of last resort,” he said.

Riemer said the law is modeled after a similar one passed in the District in 2016. The council will hold a public hearing next month. If enacted, it would take effect July 1, 2020.

Riemer’s bill would apply to privately-owned buildings of 350,000 square feet or more, and county government buildings of that size.

Julie Karant, a spokeswoman with the service workers union, said the square footage figure is the same one that was used in the District’s law.

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

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