Hotel employees in Santa Monica will soon have a way to call for help when they experience sexual harassment or assault while working.
City Council voted unanimously Oct. 23 to create legislation to protect hotel workers from sexual violence and unreasonable workloads, as well as train them to identify human trafficking when it occurs in their workplaces. The City’s Commission on the Status of Women called on council to introduce the legislation in a letter that was written in conjunction with UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona.
Commission chair Sylvia Ghazarian asked council to require employers to provide hotel workers with panic buttons they can use to report misconduct and remove themselves from dangerous situations. She also recommended the City ensure workers are compensated fairly for burdensome workloads and create protections for mandatory overtime.
“Women in these jobs are at a higher risk of sexual assault because they are often isolated and rely on tips,” Ghazarian said. “Sexual harassment policies are good, but do little to keep women safe in hotel rooms with no cameras. Women need a quick and easy way to summon emergency help.”
The Center for Union Facts, an anti-union organization, obtained emails through a public records request that show Commissioner Madeleine Brand asked the commission to submit a letter to council using language the union had drafted outlining the proposed legislation to protect hotel workers. Brand also said a representative of Local 11 told her that council asked the union to present a plan to them to address discrimination against hotel workers.
“I have spoken with Daniel (sic) Wilson from UNITE HERE Local 11 and she shared that City Council has asked that they work quickly to get something to them,” Brand wrote in one of the emails. “The Union is asking that our Commission submit a letter to City Council asking them to support Common Sense Legislation for Santa Monica hotels.”
Charyce Bozzello, a spokesperson for Union Facts, said the organization believes Local 11 presented the legislation to council in a non-transparent manner.
“The Council has chosen to move forward with this controversial proposal — a proposal copied directly from Local 11’s recommendations — without any of the careful analysis or independent study that typically accompanies major policy initiatives,” she said. “The workload restrictions in particular could have unintended consequences for both employers and employees.”
Local 11 representative Danielle Wilson said she thinks the union should make policy recommendations to council because it has extensively studied the issue of sexual discrimination against hotel workers. The union is pursuing similar legislation through ballot measures in Long Beach and Palos Verdes.
“The fact that the Commission received and credited input from the hotel workers union about an issue that vitally affects hotel workers’ safety is hardly surprising,” she said.
Wilson added that Union Facts President Richard Berman, a lobbyist based in Washington, D.C., has a history of creating nonprofit groups financed by corporate donors that aim to undermine Berman’s political opponents, such as labor unions or animal rights groups.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown said City boards and commissions often form policy recommendations with the help of interested parties outside City government.
“For instance, our excellent Task Force on the Environment has repeatedly taken statements from sustainability stakeholders and brought that to the Council, helping us shape not only our Sustainable City Plan but any number of local environmental ordinances and policy initiatives,” McKeown said.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, McKeown motioned council to prepare an ordinance to address discrimination against hotel workers rather than further study the issue.
“The Commission’s concern and the testimony about women worker experiences were compelling, and informed my motion to pursue the issue by preparing an ordinance, not merely holding a study session,” he said. “Santa Monica has long believed that we owe our hospitality workers dignity, respect, and protection.”