Hotel workers represented by Local 11 rallied for the policy in March. (Madeleine Pauker)

Local officials are analyzing and revising a proposed ordinance that would protect hotel workers from sexual assault and burdensome workloads before it heads to the City Council for adoption on Aug. 27.

The ordinance would require Santa Monica’s 41 hotels to provide panic buttons that housekeepers can use if they feel threatened while cleaning rooms alone and set a cap on how much square footage they can clean during their shifts. A new report and a recommendation could reshape the regulations in the weeks before the council votes on the ordinance.

Last week, deputy city manager Anuj Gupta released a report that evaluates claims made by the local hotel industry that limiting workloads would cut into profits and wages. The council also voted earlier this week to add a worker retention provision to the ordinance.

The proposed limit on square footage, which was recommended by the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 11, is intended to prevent hotels from forcing housekeepers to clean an excessive number of rooms in an eight-hour shift and routinely work overtime to meet quotas.

Local 11 is asking the council to exempt union hotels from the requirement because workers at those hotels can negotiate their workloads.

Representatives of Local 11 said Santa Monica’s increased minimum wage has driven many hotels to require workers to clean more rooms during their eight-hour shifts. Hotel managers tell housekeepers they must work an additional one or two hours until they meet their room quota, said Ismelda Reyes, who has worked at the JW Marriott Le Merigot for seven years.

“Managers always press us to stay until we finish our 15 rooms,” Reyes said through a translator. “Working for that long is exhausting, and I don’t get to spend time with my family in the evenings.”

But the hotel industry says the union’s recommendation to limit the area housekeepers can clean each shift to 3,500 square feet would result in workers losing full-time employee status and benefits.

Gupta’s report said hoteliers believe it would take less than 40 hours per week to clean 3,500 square feet, so housekeepers would become part-time workers. The hotel would then need to turn to temporary staffing agencies to augment their labor force.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Kevin McKeown introduced an addition to the ordinance that would require hotels to retain workers in response to reports that hotels are planning to lay off full-time housekeepers and replace them with part-time or temporary workers.

The ordinance could backfire without such a provision, he said.

“We might actually be putting the very people we are trying to protect at greater risk,” McKeown said.

The council voted unanimously to approve McKeown’s proposal, despite a plea from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce to delay voting on the ordinance until stakeholders can fully consider its legal and policy implications.

The Chamber has stood against the ordinance as proposed, with president and CEO Laurel Rosen saying it would cut housekeepers’ hours and benefits and put smaller, more affordable hotels at risk of closure. More than 60% of hotel rooms in the city are part of hotels with less than 100 rooms, according to the Chamber.

“If this rule passes, hotels would be forced to hire more part-time or temporary workers, resulting in a lower quality of service for tourists, diminished morale for employees and a more precarious business situation for our hotels,” Rosen said in a statement released last week. “Now is not the time for City Council to put more constraints on our economy, especially our smaller, more affordable hotels and motels.”

Gupta’s report also addresses provisions in the ordinance that would require hotels to set up panic button systems and provide training for housekeepers on how to protect their safety and identify human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault while on the job.

The city identified at least 29 incidents of sexual violence against hotel employees from 2008 to 2018, according to Gupta’s report.

Local hotels say they already have or are planning to install panic buttons in response to growing awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence against hotel workers. The report said smaller hotels believe installing such systems would be expensive and difficult and raised the possibility of giving housekeepers personal alarms instead.

The training proposed under the ordinance may be duplicative of existing state law that requires employers to provide safety and sexual violence training, the report said. Of the cities with similar ordinances — Seattle, Long Beach, Oakland and Emeryville — only Seattle requires limited training.

madeleine@smdp.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *