Greenbelt City Council decided Monday to stop contracting with a temporary employment agency that pays its workers less than the minimum required by the city.
Greenbelt Public Works Department had been contracting with the agency — M.L.F. Labor Finders — in order to staff building cleaning as well as refuse and recycling crews. Council decided to replace the temporary positions with part-time employees by Nov. 15.
City Manager Michael McLaughlin said the agency — M.L.F. Labor Finders — pays its workers approximately $8 an hour. This violates a city policy adopted in 2007 that calls for city employees and contractors to be paid at least living wage, which is $12.49 an hour in Prince George’s County.
The agency came to the attention of the council as it was poised to adopt a resolution to approve spending more than the budgeted $10,000 on the contractor. However, council raised questions about how much the agency pays its employees before passing the resolution. McLaughlin said he did not catch the wage discrepancy at the outset.
“We would pay those firms between $14.80 an hour and $16.50, so all those numbers are higher than the livable wage,” McLaughlin said, following the meeting. He said upon further research “we learned that with this firm, we were paying $15.31 an hour, only had $8 an hour going to the employee.”
The council discussed how to discontinue its contract with M.L.F. Labor Finders. McLaughlin was skeptical of using another temporary agency, saying that part-time employment would ensure workers be paid the living wage.
After the meeting, McLaughlin explained, “Hiring the person directly by the city ensures that they get a higher rate than if they’re working for a temp agency.”
Council member Rodney Roberts suggested to council that it immediately replace the temporary positions. Although the council agreed to switch to part-time, McLaughlin maintained that this would best be done with a transition period of three to four weeks, giving Public Works enough time to fill the positions.
He said immediately dropping M.L.F. would necessitate reshuffling Public Works employees in order to fill the necessary jobs until the city could find new hires.
Mayor Judith "J" Davis agreed, saying that an abrupt transition “would be at the expense of other jobs that people want to have done around the city, and at the expense of the employees, who are perhaps doing things that they are not trained for.”
Council member Edward Putens suggested setting a Nov. 15 deadline to discontinue contracting with M.L.F., with an explanation to the agency.
“It’s a pragmatic compromise to this and it moves us in the right direction,” Council member Konrad Herling agreed.
In the meantime, they would need to approve increasing the $10,000 budget for contractors, so council passed the spending resolution.
The council then voted, 6-1, to discontinue use of M.L.F. Labor Finders by Nov. 15 in favor of part-time employees, with Roberts dissenting. Roberts wanted the motion to be broader to prevent this from happening again.
“My main concern is not just to remove this one vendor, my concern is to just not be in the position of having this type of labor for the city,” Roberts said.
Mayor Davis responded that the problem was not with the policy, which the city already has in place. “We have it down as a policy, that we will have living wages for all our employees." She said McLaughlin had already "eaten crow" that he did not catch this for temporary workers. “But I don’t think we need to make another motion stating the policy once more.”
On Wednesday, McLaughlin estimated that with about five weeks for Public Works to replace the temps, part-time employment was not without its own challenges.
“We’re going to lose some flexibility in filling these positions because there isn’t a static demand for people to do this work, it can rise and fall,” he said. “It’s going to be a little bit more complex for us to figure out what the work schedule is for anyone we bring on board.”
M.L.F. could not be reached for comment.