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OPINION -- What Bernie Sanders' Campaign Can Teach Santa Monica

By Charlyce Bozzello

Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is scheduled to make a campaign stop Friday in Santa Monica, and he's sure to draw a crowd.

But if actions speak louder than words, residents would be wise to do more than just listen to the Vermont Senator's stump speech. They should consider the warning signs coming from his campaign.

Sen. Sanders has been a notable defender of a federal $15 minimum wage. Yet, just last week, his own campaign got caught up in a conflict over hourly wages.

His campaign employees -- who voted to unionize earlier this year -- complained that the wages for some staff did not equate to $15 an hour.

“Field organizers say they make a salary of $36,000 annually but work 60 hours per week, which is an average of $13 per hour,” the union wrote in a letter.

The Senator's solution? His campaign “will limit the amount of time his organizers can work to guarantee that no one is making less than $15 per hour.”

Well-intended or not, what’s being spun as more reasonable work hours is really a way to sugar-coat the fact that his campaign is reducing earning opportunities for its employees.

A similar scenario could play out soon in Santa Monica, only this time it would target the city's hotel industry.

For the better part of a year, hospitality worker union Unite Here Local 11 has been pushing legislation in Santa Monica that would greatly limit how and when hotels can schedule their employees.

The City Council has yet to release its own study on how this potential law could impact both businesses and workers.

However, a report prepared by a Sacramento-based consulting firm with extensive experience studying state and local government polices did just that.

It found that regulations on work schedules could increase the cost of housekeeping “between 32 to 65 percent a year” ("Proposed Santa Monica Law to Protect Hotel Housekeepers Could Backfire, Report Says," May 21, 2019).

How would hotels respond to such a steep increase in labor costs?

Much like Bernie Sanders’ campaign, hotels would be forced to cut staff hours, or worse, layoff employees altogether. These limitations could also "backfire for housekeepers who rely on overtime opportunities for additional income."

Local 11 already fought successfully for similar regulations in other cities -- but not without a catch.

In Long Beach, an ordinance passed that would limit how hotels schedule their employees; however, unionized hotels are exempt from adhering to it.

This type of exemption -- which the union will likely push for in Santa Monica -- could require workers at unionized hotels "to do more work than in non-union hotels for less take home pay," according to the report.

Cleverly, the union has tied its demand for work schedule regulations to legislation that would mandate hotels provide panic buttons -- an effort to protect employees from any sexual misconduct by guests. But the two policies are not mutually inclusive.

In fact, hotel panic buttons seem to have caught on without any type of mandate. The same report found that not only do “panic buttons appear to be an emerging standard in the [hotel] industry” but that all the hotels interviewed in Santa Monica “either already provide them or are in the process of procuring them.”

It seems hotel employers across the board agree that protecting workers from sexual harassment should be a top priority. But tying a mandate for panic buttons to a policy that could hurt the very workers it intends to help would be a great step backward for the city.

As the employees on Bernie Sanders’ campaign are learning the hard way, even the most well-intentioned plans come with unintended consequences.

Santa Monica's City Council should heed this warning and reconsider what place work schedule regulations should have in the city's efforts to protect hotel employees.

Charlyce Bozzello is a communications director at the Center for Union Facts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to fighting for transparency and accountability in today's labor movement.

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