West Hollywood council approved, on second reading, a Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance at a regular City Council Meeting on August 2, 2021. The controversial Hotel ordinance establishes certain additional protections for hotel workers in the City of West Hollywood.
The West Hollywood City Council, at its regular meeting on Monday, April 19, 2021, directed City staff to work with the City Attorney to draft an Ordinance establishing additional protections for hotel workers. At its regular meeting on Monday, July 19, 2021, the City Council introduced the Ordinance on first reading. The approved Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance will add Chapter 5.128 to the West Hollywood Municipal Code regarding hotel worker protection.
The Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance includes four key elements:
- A requirement, beginning September 1, 2021, that hotels provide the “right to recall” to employees laid-off due to catastrophic events (such as COVID-19) and offer those laid-off employees all positions that become available for which the laid-off employees are qualified, and also provide worker retention protections to employees, requiring that a hotel retains its workforce for 90 days if the hotel is sold or a change in control occurs;
- A requirement, beginning January 1, 2022, that hotels provide personal security devices (sometimes known as panic buttons) to employees that are required to work in guest rooms or restrooms by themselves;
- A provision, beginning January 1, 2022, regarding workload and compensation, as follows: “For hotels with fewer than 40 guest rooms, a hotel employer shall not require a room attendant to clean rooms amounting to a total of more than 4,000 square feet of floor space in any eight-hour workday, unless the hotel employer pays the room attendant twice the room attendant’s regular rate of pay for each and every hour worked during the workday. For hotels with 40 or more guest rooms, a hotel employer shall not require a room attendant to clean rooms amounting to a total of more than 3,500 square feet of floor space in any eight-hour workday, unless the hotel employer pays the room attendant twice the room attendant’s regular rate of pay for each and every hour worked during the workday. If a room attendant is assigned to clean seven or more checkout rooms or additional bed rooms during any eight-hour workday, each such checkout room or additional bed room shall for purposes of this subsection count as 500 square feet, regardless of the actual square footage of each room. The limitations contained herein apply to any combination of spaces, including guest rooms, meeting rooms, and other rooms within the hotel, and apply regardless of the furniture, equipment, or amenities in such rooms.”; and
- A requirement, beginning July 1, 2022, that hotels provide public housekeeping training by contracting with a certified third-party entity to provide annual six-hour training to staff on a variety of topics included in the Ordinance including workers’ rights and responsibilities under the proposed ordinance, best practices for identifying and responding to suspected instances of human trafficking, domestic violence, or violent/threatening conduct, best practices for effective cleaning techniques, best practices for identifying and avoiding insect/vermin infestation, and best practices for identifying and responding to other potential criminal activity.
A press release by S.O.S. WeHo, a coalition of businesses, workers and concerned citizens, denounced the passage of what it calls a highly controversial Hotel Ordinance, stating that the city was unable to provide any statistical evidence based in West Hollywood to support the measure, and that a council majority led by Mayor Lindsey Horvath alongside Council Members Sepi Shyne and John Erickson unilaterally rejected multiple calls for study, and stymied public requests for information behind the shield of “Privileged Information”. The statement also notes that all three politicians benefited through thousands of dollars spent on independent expenditures by UNITE HERE Local 11, the local hotel union organization in 2019.
“We are extremely disappointed by the Council’s decision to rush this unnecessary hotel ordinance without even studying its impacts,” said Genevieve Morrill, President of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “Paraded as worker safety, the Council’s decision will actually hurt workers by limiting their overtime and gratuity income potential at a time when families need money most to support their families as the pandemic continues. In fact, most of our hotels stayed open throughout all of 2020 to serve emergency workers, and then took extraordinary efforts to bring all their employees back before many other hotels in other cities. So, we punish them now for being bad employers? Where is the proof?”
Opponents of the law assert that it is a special interest legislation disguised as a safety measure whose true intent is to induce hotel unionization through excessively punitive measures. These measures include converting entire shifts to double time pay in the event that workload restrictions are exceeded as well as requiring permission slips seven days in advance by employees if they wish to work more than 2 hours of overtime in one shift. None of the above measures exist in any federal or state labor law in the country, and union hotels are exempt regardless of whether they are included in their bargaining agreement. The final objection pertains to the unintended consequences to West Hollywood workers and residents.
According to S.O.S. WeHo, workers can expect to see their incomes drop by as much as 30% with the loss of voluntary overtime wages and gratuities. Meanwhile, city residents, who are already looking at nearly $40 million in losses to the city reserves over the last two years, could see that number increase if the city’s hotels business levels are reduced as a result of the ordinance.
The deep divisions created by the ordinance are not anticipated to dissipate anytime soon. Many expect multiple lawsuits to be levied against the city in the near future, which occurred most recently in Santa Monica when it passed a similar ordinance. There is also major expected pushback to come from the greater small business community later this fall as the West Hollywood City Council has scheduled a study session on potential increases to minimum wage on August 31. Some question the timing of this action following on the footsteps of the hotel ordinance when the nation continues to struggle with cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
In a joint statement made by the West Hollywood Hotel Council, these and other concerns were expressed. “The hypocrisy of this ordinance should be a resounding wake up call to our community. Sadly, this was a council majority who behaved more like Trump than WeHo as they ignored both facts regarding the employment market and concerns for residents as ‘Fake News’. It is clear that the politically driven activism of the Horvath, Shyne & Erickson railroad of bad policy, zero research, and zero fiscal responsibility will continue unchecked at the expense of West Hollywood residents and businesses alike.”
The statement also provided a fact sheet, which reads as follows:
Has Nothing to do With Worker Safety
West Hollywood hotels exceed existing work protections – the facts speak for themselves:
- According to the city’s own Staff Report, West Hollywood hotels have had ZERO wage and hour investigations between 2010-2021.
- The California Department of Industrial Relations also reports West Hollywood hotels have had ZERO complaints.
- And, the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing has documented just six allegations in the last six years. West Hollywood hotels employ more than 2,000 people who work every single day — an average of one allegation per year.
West Hollywood hotels already exceed all real worker protections included in the ordinance as regulated by the state of California, including:
- standard industry training requirements;
- sexual harassment prevention training;
- identifying and reporting human trafficking training;
- HR practices including filing complaints;
- anti-retaliation protections;
- panic buttons – an industry standard;
- and recall and retention codified by the state in April 2021 not to sunset until December 31, 2024.
Exempts Union Hotels, Hurts Workers
If square footage restrictions are so great, why would the unions want to be exempted from them?
- It falls below industry norms by 40%-50% — including union hotels.
- It reduces cash tips housekeepers may receive by half, as the rooms they can clean are cut in half.
- It takes away overtime opportunities, which can average 5-10 hours per week.
- Voluntary overtime wages and cash gratuities can amount to 20%-30% of a housekeeper’s annual income – lost under this ordinance.
Bought and paid for by Unite Here
Multiple instances confirming unbalanced and flawed process:
- May Public Request for Information- majority of requests for documented communication between council, staff, and Unite Here were either heavily redacted or withheld on the basis of privilege.
- June 7 Council Meeting- it appeared that three council members (Horvath, Shyne, and Erickson) were texting during an exchange when another council member requested an economic study or study session to be scheduled, which was later rejected by all three following the exchange. In responding to Public requests for information for all text messages sent by council members during that meeting, the city asserted that no text messages from those council members existed.
- June 21 Council Meeting- Unite Here’s Danielle Wilson was given video access for her public comment despite the express prohibition of any public comment being made on video. The city’s rule is that public comments are audio only. The City Clerk claimed that Wilson’s video speech was an “error” as the city scheduled her as a “translator” for public comment. In fact, there have been no translators on video for public comment during any of the recent city council meetings.
- July 19 Council Meeting- more than 90% of public speakers in support of the ordinance were United Here members who work and live outside of the city of West Hollywood and do not work at any of its hotels. United Here’s Danielle Wilson was given the last speaker slot for public comment.
- July 19 Council Meeting Council ignored its own City Staff Report, which described differences between West Hollywood and Santa Monica and recommended a higher square footage maximum. Instead of considering any of the points raised by its own Staff, the Council copied and pasted the Santa Monica Hotel Ordinance.
- July 19 Council Meeting- Council Members Sepi Shyne and John Erickson both publicly claim to not have taken any monies from United Here for their political campaigns, but campaign records prove that both council members benefited in the tens of thousands of dollars in the form of Independent Expenditures made on their behalf as well as mailers sent on their behalf.
Puts Economic Recovery Out of Reach by Exacerbating Hiring Shortage & Reducing Hotel Occupancy
Hotels were decimated by the pandemic.
- Occupancy fell from 90% to 3% at height of state and local shut downs, forcing temporary & permanent closures
- Losses of $2 million or more per month through 2020 and first part of 2021
- Forecasts predict 1-2 years to return to 2019 figures – without the city’s hotel ordinance in place
Unprecedented worldwide shortage in the hospitality industry.
- WeHo hotels at last count had 182 open positions – even with signing bonuses, referral bonuses, and other benefits.
- It is impossible for hotels to double the staffing structure required to operate under the ordinance.
- Hotels would have no choice but to limit the number of rooms they sell as staffing shortages result in a 40%-50% reduced occupancy level — a de facto “Tourism Cap” with lasting consequences to the city’s hotel tax revenue and thus funding available for resident services.
Tourism Tax Dollars that Helped Build West Hollywood from Cityhood Will Undoubtedly Decline
Reduced Occupancy = Reduced Tourism Revenues
- Hotel taxes and sales taxes largely driven by tourist spending have driven more than 50% of the city’s revenues – unrestricted funds that can be spent how the city chooses.
- But rather than study the impacts, council majority has repeatedly dismissed calls for either economic studies (as suggested by Mayor Pro Tempore Lauren Meister and Council Member John D’Amico) as well as a suggested study session by new City Manager David Wilson.
- The city budget, with a projected deficit of $10 Million dollars, was approved by that majority on June 21 despite the multiple calls for study.
- The unintended consequence? An increase in the city’s deficits resulting in future reductions of resident and social services – and a downgrading of the city’s bond rating, increasing taxpayers’ borrowing costs for capital projects like West Hollywood Park.
West Hollywood is Not Santa Monica
Public Comment after Public Comment from Santa Monica Activists & Workers – Where were WeHo Residents?
- An onslaught of out-of-towners, including West Hollywood’s own Mayor, cite false results from Santa Monica.
- Claims that Santa Monica hotels are somehow “doing better” than they were before the hotel ordinance there are similarly disproved. Their ordinance went into effect the same time pandemic closures did – with no possible way to measure their impact under the circumstances.