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

The City Council will vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would give hotel housekeepers personal safety devices and limit their workload to 4,000 square feet per day.

The ordinance, which would also require Santa Monica’s 41 hotels to organize safety training and retain workers if they change ownership or management, has been in the works for more than a year. Last June, the hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 11 recommended that City Council adopt a law to protect hotel housekeepers from sexual violence and heavy workloads. The City Council asked city staff to draft the ordinance last October.

The most controversial part of the ordinance is a proposed cap on the square footage housekeepers can clean during an eight-hour shift. Hoteliers say the workload limit has been bundled together with safety measures in the ordinance and that the two are separate issues.

Local 11 has recommended a 3,500 square foot limit, but city staff proposed that the City Council vote on a 4,000 square foot limit to align with similar ordinances in other cities like Long Beach and Oakland.

That part of the ordinance would also require hotels to pay workers 1.5 times their typical wage for all hours worked when their workload exceeds 4,000 square feet.

The local hotel industry argues that housekeepers would finish their allotted square footage in less than eight hours, which would force hoteliers to convert full-time housekeepers to part-time workers. Housekeepers would lose their benefits and hotels would have to hire more part-time or temporary workers, said Laurel Rosen, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

Rosen said it would be difficult for small hotels, which represent more than 60% of hotel rooms in Santa Monica, to remain profitable if they have to hire more workers. She added the ordinance could lead to a drop in tourism, which would affect other small businesses and the city’s tax revenue.

“Arbitrarily increasing these small hotels’ labor costs puts these businesses, and the city’s economy, at risk,” Rosen said in a statement released earlier this month. 

Matt Stauffer, the Chamber’s executive vice president of external affairs, said applying a uniform square footage cap to all 41 hotels in Santa Monica doesn’t make sense because they vary in size, the guests they attract and the amenities they provide.

“Hotels have different sized rooms and some guests are messier than others, so 4,000 square feet for one housekeeper isn’t the same as 4,000 square feet for another housekeeper,” Stauffer said.

Local 11 representatives said the square footage cap is necessary because many hotels have started requiring workers to clean more rooms than they can handle during their eight-hour shifts since Santa Monica raised its minimum wage. 

Some unionized hotels have already negotiated agreements with housekeepers to clean around 3,500 square feet per day, according to Local 11. City staff is recommending that the City Council exempt union hotels from the ordinance because workers at those hotels can negotiate their workloads and working conditions.

At nonunionized hotels like the JW Marriott Le Merigot, 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 hotel for seven years.

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

Victor Narro, a project director with the UCLA Labor Center, said hotels wouldn’t need to convert full-time housekeepers into part-time workers if they cleaned 4,000 square feet in less than eight hours. 

“If you have a full-time employee who finishes their job quickly, you don’t tell them to go home. You assign them other tasks,” Narro said. “There’s always other work besides housekeeping that’s needed in a hotel.”

City staff recommended enforcing the ordinance through civil enforcement, which would establish that any hotel worker may file a civil action lawsuit against a Santa Monica hotel for violating any provision in the ordinance. 

City Council will meet Tuesday, Aug. 27 at City Hall, 1685 Main St.

madeleine@smdp.com

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