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Hotel Workers Rally for Santa Monica Panic Button Ordinance

Bob Kronovetrealty
We Love Property Management Headaches!

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

June 19, 2019 -- The local hotel workers union on Tuesday staged the first in a series of rallies leading up to the Santa Monica City Council's vote on a panic button ordinance this fall.

Two members of the Council, which is expected to vote on the ordinance in August, addressed the crowd that included hotel workers, clergy and civic leaders gathered in front of City Hall.

Hotel workers and their supporters rally at City Hall
Hotel workers and their supporters rally at City Hall (Courtesy Unite HERE Local 11)

“You’re all members of our community and if one struggles, we all struggle, together,” Councilmember Greg Morena told the crowd.

In her address, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said, “This hotel industry was built on the backs of workers and they deserve to live with dignity and respect.”

The proposed ordinance -- unanimously backed by the Council in October -- would require local hotels to install "panic buttons" in all guest rooms.

It also would protect hotel workers from "unreasonable workloads" and provide comprehensive education and training for supervisors and staff.

“This policy makes me feel like a part of this community and seen by this city," said Aurelia Gonzalez, who has worked as a housekeeper at the JW Marriott Le Merigot for 18 years.

Gonzalez encouraged the Council to approve the ordinance, saying "it is what we, the workers, have told you we need."

In October, union organizers said the Council's decision to quickly draft an ordinance marked "a historic moment for Santa Monica" and set a precedent for the region ("City to Draft Groundbreaking Ordinance Protecting Santa Monica Hotel Workers from Sexual Violence," October 26, 2018).

At the meeting, City Manager Rick Cole said that the issue was too complex to rush and cautioned that the City was "not set up yet to enforce those kinds of rules."

At Tuesday's rally, opponents of the proposed measure displayed a banner calling Unite HERE Local 11 "California's worst labor union."

Counter demonstrators display ant-union banner
Counter demonstrators display ant-union banner (Courtesy Center for Union Facts)
“The union continues to push for so-called hotel housekeeper protections but neglects to address allegations of sexual harassment and worker abuse brought against its own front group Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice," said Charlyce Bozzello, communications manager at the Center for Union Facts.

In November, the executive director of CLUE -- which has been a leading voice in union organizing efforts in Santa Monica -- stepped down from his post ("Leader of Social Justice Group Involved in Santa Monica Organizing Efforts Resigns," November 26, 2018).

"Employees might question if that sounds like a union that’s truly looking out for workers,” Bozzello said.

Bozzello said Council members "are doing workers a disservice" by failing to provide research on "the unintended consequences" of the union-backed law.

Last month, a report prepared for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles found the proposed law could hurt the housekeepers it intends to help and deal a blow to Santa Monica's thriving hotel industry ("Proposed Santa Monica Law to Protect Hotel Housekeepers Could Backfire, Report Says," May 21, 2019).

After the rally at City Hall, demonstrators stopped at the nearby Shore Hotel, where more than 100 workers and community members had gathered.

In 2015, a female employee of the hotel told the California Coastal Commission what the head of security at the time had told the housekeepers during an orientation training.

“If we were about to be sexually assaulted," the worker said he told them, "the best course of action would be to defecate ourselves in order to avoid it, so we’d become so disgusting that no man would want to touch us.”

Three weeks later, union officials said, the Shore Hotel fired her.

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