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County tightens protections for displaced workers

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Legislation designed to close what proponents considered to be loopholes in Westchester County’s Displaced Service Employees Protection Law itself became law on Oct. 16 in a ceremony held just outside of the Board of Legislators’ chamber at the Michaelian Office Building in White Plains.

The original law, passed in 2013, was designed to protect building service workers such as cleaners and maintenance personnel who could be pushed out of their jobs when building ownership or contracts with service companies are changed.

George Latimer signs the bill into law.

Local leaders of the union 32BJ SEIU, which has about 175,000 members in 11 states and Washington, D.C. — including the Hudson Valley — had been campaigning for tightening of the law after some union members found that its protections didn’t extend far enough.

The original law created a transition period during which new employers had to offer workers the opportunity to remain in their jobs. It applied to contractors with 15 or more employees. It was alleged that to avoid complying with the law, contractors created smaller work units with fewer than 15 employees.

The revisions lower the threshold for covered contractors from 15 to five employees and extend the transitional employment period from 60 to 90 days. The new law also has expanded requirements for information sharing, requiring that workers be told with whom to communicate at the new employer.

Benjamin Boykin, chairman of the Board of Legislators, in welcoming service workers union members and some of his fellow legislators, said, “This signing is important because we believe in protecting workers’ rights.”

Lenore Friedlaender, assistant to the president of 32BJ SEIU, noted that the amendments to the existing law were prompted by real life: “The building was sold and the new building owner brought in a cleaning contractor who was ‘low road’ and did not respect the rights of the workers, cut wages and threw the existing workers out on the street.”

She said the law now makes a new building owner responsible for compliance and requires an actual written offer of employment from a new employer to the workers in a building.

Legislator Catherine Borgia said: “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.”

Borgia co-sponsored the changes with Legislators Kitley Covill and David Tubiolo.

Before signing the legislation into law, Westchester County Executive George Latimer told the union members, “I have never done a job in my life as strenuous as the job you do or as strenuous as the job my mother and father did. It was their work that gave me a better life and the work you do is designed to give your children a better life so that your children can be a county legislator, or a county executive, or a congress member, or governor, or president of the future, or doctor, or lawyer or businessperson.”

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