Legislators, Union Members Rally To Support Changes To A Westchester Workers Law

Sep 16, 2019

County legislators and union members are calling for the passage of changes to Westchester’s Displaced Service Employees Protection law ahead of a public hearing tonight on the measure. It aims to close loopholes and protect workers’ jobs when buildings change management or contracts.

Prior to a possible vote, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will hold a public hearing on a law amending the 2013 Displaced Service Employees Protection Law. Democrat Ben Boykin is chair of the Board of Legislators.

“This is a law that provides protection for building service workers whose jobs too often are threatened through no fault of their own when contracts change hands,” Boykin says.

Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia, a Democratic co-sponsor of the amendment, says the original law intended to provide the following protections.

“The law’s highlights at the time was requiring a transition period in which new employers must offer workers the chance to remain on the job, negotiating that with them,” Borgia says. “It also created a timeframe in which those offers had to be made and a timeframe for the length of work that had to be offered.”         

She says it has become evident that changes to the law were needed to ensure that companies cannot skirt the law because of technicalities.

“One of the ways it became clear to us this legislation was needed was because of stories that we heard from real workers,” says Borgia.

Lenore Friedlaender is assistant to the president of 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service workers union in the country. She gives an example of a company using the loophole in the case of a building in White Plains.

“The office cleaners came to work last September one night and discovered that the new company came in. They had no idea the name of the new company and all of a sudden they were out of work,” Friedlaender says. “It took us months to figure out the name of the new company, and the new cleaning company came in as a result of the new building being sold.”

Democratic Legislator Kitley Covill also co-sponsors the measure.

“We lowered the threshold for covered companies from 15 to five, so a building can’t make an end run around the law by hiring lots of small companies,” Covill says. “We extended the period that workers must be offered employment when a contract or building changes hands, from 60 days to 90 days, which obviously gives workers a longer time to find new work if they need to and hopefully gives workers time to prove themselves to new employers.”

And, she says, the new legislation strengthens disclosure requirements so, in the case related by Friedlaender, for example, it won’t be so difficult to track down company and contractor names.

“It now, they have to tell you who’s buying the building, and who the contractors are,” says Covill.

Maria Trejo, a building cleaning worker and member of 32BJ SEIU, says she knows workers who lost their cleaning jobs a few years ago to a non-union contract, and many of them still haven’t found work. Speaking through an interpreter, she urges the county Board to pass the new law.

“The intent of the law is to give workers a transition time before they lose their employment. We need to strengthen that law. We need to make sure that the new contractors don’t hide.”

Yonkers Republican County Legislator David Tubiolo also is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“It helps families, local families who live here and want to stay here and work here. It helps everybody between, from the local security guard to the janitor to the doorman," Tubiolo says. "This is a law we believe in and with these amendments, will make any loopholes nonexistent.”

Again, 32BJ’s Friedlaender:

“Cleaning contractors and security contractors change all the time but, for workers who’ve been on the job, who know the tenants, who are qualified and competent and able to perform the service, they shouldn’t come to work one night and find that they’re, they have been replaced without the opportunity to prove their worth and demonstrate that they can do the job and continue working in that facility,” says Friedlaender.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators meeting begins at 7.