Local hotel workers are calling on the City of Santa Monica to create a new law that would provide them with a way to call for help when they experience sexual harassment or assault on the job.

City Council voted last October 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. In a demonstration in front of City Hall Tuesday, workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona,

and Councilmembers Ana Maria Jara and Kevin McKeown said they have been waiting five months for City staff to bring an ordinance back to Council and demanded that the process be expedited.

Nellie Ruiz, who worked at a downtown hotel for two years, said workers urgently need panic buttons they can use to report misconduct and remove themselves from dangerous situations, a measure Council endorsed in October. Women in hotel jobs are at an increased risk of sexual assault because they often work in isolated rooms and rely on tips, according to the City’s Commission on the Status of Women.

“Coming from the worker perspective, five months is a really long time,” she said. “This is something that needs to happen now.”

Ismelda Reyes, a laundry attendant, said the only training she received to prevent sexual assault was to block the doors of hotel rooms with her cart.

“I don’t know what I would do if I ever found myself in a dangerous situation with

guests in the rooms, since there has never been any real training,” Reyes said.

Ruiz said workers also need to be compensated fairly for their work and be protected against mandatory overtime, which Council directed staff to include in the ordinance. Since Santa Monica enacted a higher minimum hotel wage, she said, hotels have forced workers to clean more rooms during their shifts, often forcing them to take on unpaid overtime and forgo breaks.

“It’s not fair and it keeps us from spending time with our families,” Ruiz said.

Several other cities, including Seattle and Emeryville, have passed similar laws protecting hotel workers, and ballot measures in Long Beach and Palos Verdes are also in the works, according to Local 11.

McKeown said the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and local hotels have asked to meet with him this week about the ordinance and he thinks they want to stall the ordinance. He said he wanted to pass the ordinance in October rather than asking staff to study the issue further.

“Back in October, I made the motion for this ordinance … don’t bring this back for more study, we know what we want,” he said. “Here we are five months later still waiting for the ordinance … let’s push to get this ordinance back on the agenda.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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