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Santa Monica Council Unanimously Approves Groundbreaking Hotel Ordinance

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By Jorge Casuso

August 28, 2019 -- The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday that protects housekeepers from sexual violence and dictates workloads normally negotiated by the hotel workers union.

During the nearly seven-hour-long hearing, some 100 speakers -- many of them housekeepers -- weighed in on the ordinance that United HERE Local 11 urged the Council to pass last October.

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While the ordinance's main provision requiring hotels to provide housekeepers with personal security devices received nearly unanimous backing during public testimony, the workload provision divided the speakers.

It also seemed to confuse the Council members, who repeatedly asked staff to clarify the implications of the provision, which sets a maximum square-footage a housekeeper can clean in an eight-hour workday before overtime kicks in.

"There seems to be some confusion" among the stakeholders, Councilmember Terry O'Day said.

"I'm just going to beat it until we understand it," Councilmember Greg Morena added.

The provision the Council approved after two hours of questions and deliberations establishes daily workload maximums of 4,000 square feet for hotels with less than 40 guest rooms and 3,500 square feet for hotels with more than 40 guest rooms.

It also requires a double overtime compensation rate for all hours worked in a workday when a housekeeper’s workload exceeds these maximums.

Before approving the measure, Council members asked what would happen if more than one housekeeper cleans a room (the square footage is pro-rated) or if they can perform another task after reaching the threshold (as long as it doesn't involve cleaning).

The ordinance also requires hotels to use a City selected and certified Public Training Organization to inform workers of their rights and calls for hotels to retain workers for a 90-day transition period when the ownership changes.

Union hotels, who negotiate workloads as part of their their collective bargaining agreements, are exempt from the ordinance.

As expected, it was the workload provision that divided hotel owners and union activists -- as well as the housekeepers themselves.

Hoteliers accused the council of meddling in their business.

"The new law is telling us how to run a hotel, how to run a family business," said Marc Guest, an outside director of Cal Mar Hotel, a boutique hotel near Downtown.

"Do you want to legislate how many eggs a waitress can serve in a shift?"

Union activists said the workload provision became necessary when hotel owners boosted workloads after the Council passed a minimum wage law in 2016.

The law, which covers hotels and motels and associated businesses on the premises, also exempts union employees.

Aurelia Gonzalez, a worker at the non-union JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot Hotel, said she was given more work after the ordinance went into effect.

"After the minimum wage, two rooms were added," Gonzalez said noting that housekeepers were also made responsible for cleaning the refrigerators and room balconies.

But the housekeepers wearing red union t-shirts were countered by non-union workers in white t-shirts who said they were happy with the way their hotels were run.

Nearly all were from Hotel Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach, two staunchly anti-union hotels that provide their workers with higher wages and more benefits that the union hotels.

"We are adults," said Refugio Perez. "Please allow us to decide if we want a union or if we don't."

Vivian Rothstein, a long-time union activist, accused The Edward Thomas Collection, which owns the luxury hotels, of "terrifying workers.

"People are afraid of their loss of wages" under the ordinance, Rothstein said. "This is a tactic I have never seen before."

Casa's General Manager Charlie Lopez Quintana said the ordinance takes away a worker's say in their schedule.

"We are telling the people they don't have the freedom to choose how they are going to work," Lopez Quintana said.

"The ordinance is not about protecting the people."

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