I take issue with Michele Dennis’ op-ed in Aug. 15 issue of the Business Journal (“Bad Performance Review”) in which she attacks AB 350, a proposal that would help protect property service workers.
With California’s unemployment near 12 percent, stabilizing employment is a basic step toward economic recovery. Contracted property service workers face even more job insecurity than most because of low-bid competition. The faces of security officers, food service workers, janitors and window washers are the faces of the working poor in California. Low-bid contracting in the state’s property services industry perpetuates instability and poverty in these workers’ communities.
Everyone who works hard should be able to live in dignity. Cut-throat property service contractors imagine the only way to grow is to create poverty-level jobs. Racing to undercut competitors means property service contracts change hands almost overnight, often over just a few dollars. Contractors who don’t want a reputation for ditching customers make sure their workers don’t know until the last minute they’ve lost their jobs because their boss was underbid. That’s not right.
California’s property owners would like to blame workers for contract turnover. The truth is the low-bid system ensures turnover that has a lot more to do with cost control than with worker job performance. This low-bid system creates a new model of temporary work that balances working families on the knife’s edge of imminent catastrophe. Facing unemployment in California today is facing catastrophe.
If our leaders don’t take steps to reverse these trends and protect working and middle-class families in this recession, recovery and growth will remain elusive. Economic security is the first step toward economic recovery.
By passing AB 350, California’s lawmakers can bring a modicum of economic security to property service workers such as Keven Adams. Like most Americans, Adams, a licensed security officer, lives paycheck to paycheck. Despite years of hard work, he came to work one day to find someone else at his post. The building changed security contractors, but Adams only found out that he lost his job from the officer who replaced him. Overnight, he was left to rely on unemployment, scrambling to pay for rent, utilities and groceries.
Tens of thousands of California janitors can point to very real protections against arbitrary unemployment that the Displaced Janitor Opportunity Act has provided them and their families over 10 years. For thousands upon thousands of security officers, food service workers and window washers, AB 350 holds the promise of similar protection at a time when California is one of the hardest places in the nation to find work. Economic recovery starts with stable jobs.
AB 350 is hardly the radical measure that chambers of commerce and the Building Owners and Managers Association would like us to believe. Worker retention laws like AB 350 are a tested and proven strategy for stabilizing employment in low-bid industries. Worker retention laws are common across California’s major cities and airports. Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco all have local laws protecting service workers from the kind of instability that comes from low-bid service contracting.
Although various chambers and BOMA want you to believe AB 350 would do everything from destroying California’s reputation to imperiling free enterprise, they cannot point to any decline in quality or increase in costs in the last 10 years attributable to the janitor worker retention law in California. It is hard to imagine how a bill that protects low-wage workers’ jobs can be called a “job killer.”
Despite recent editorials’ claims of forced union recognition, the California Supreme Court just ruled in July that worker retention laws like AB 350 do not interfere with the National Labor Relations Act. In its recent decision, the court stated, “retention ordinance does not … disturb the process established by the NLRA for resolving labor disputes and is permissible.”
Dennis, who is president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Los Angeles, claimed in her op-ed that AB 350 “could cause lawsuits against an employer if the workers that company ‘inherits’ from the former firm have criminal records, abuse drugs or alcohol on the job,” yet cannot point to one example after 10 years of identical retention provisions for janitors. In any case, the bill makes it clear that it does not require employers to hire or retain workers with convictions for violent crime.
What AB 350 does do is provide a transition that protects hard-working people and their families. AB 350 gives workers 60 days to prove themselves to their new employer or seek a new job. It doesn’t guarantee a job; their new employer has the final say on that. AB 350 is a modest but important step toward an economy that works for working families, and legislators should embrace it.
Mike Garcia is president of the SEIU United Service Workers West labor union.
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