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Proposed Santa Monica Law to Protect Hotel Housekeepers Could Backfire, Report Says

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a comment from the hotel workers union.

May 21, 2019 -- A proposed Santa Monica ordinance to protect hotel housekeepers could hurt those it intends to help and deal a blow to Santa Monica's thriving hotel industry, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report prepared for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles comes as the City Council prepares to consider a measure this summer proposed by UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers in Santa Monica ("City to Draft Groundbreaking Ordinance Protecting Santa Monica Hotel Workers from Sexual Violence," October 26, 2018).

The proposed ordinance -- unanimously backed by the Council last fall -- would require local hotels to install "panic buttons" in all guest rooms, protect hotel workers from "unreasonable workloads" and provide comprehensive education and training for supervisors and staff.

Instead of being the historic law touted by the union, the report concludes that the proposed ordinace treads no new ground and, if anything, would hurt the hotels that drive the beach city's $2 billion a year tourism industry.

The study prepared by Capitol Matrix Consulting found that the requirement to install panic buttons "is, for the most part, unnecessary."

"All the hotels we interviewed either already provide them or are in the process of procuring them," the report said. "Moreover, panic buttons appear to be an emerging standard in the industry."

The requirement that staff take sexual harassment training and the possible requirement that employees who need time off due to sexual harassment be paid sick leave "are duplicative of current state law," the report said.

If the harassment provisions would have little or no effect, the workload limits would reduce income for Santa Monica's 41 hotels, as well as for the housekeepers who clean the city's 4,186 hotel rooms, the report found.

This would reduce the approximately $60 million a year in bed taxes collected by the City by "several million dollars," the report found.

Under the proposed ordinance, housekeeping costs could increase by between 32 to 65 percent a year for a hypothetical 150-room hotel, according to the hotels interviewed for the report.

The increased cost could "reduce property tax revenues by several million dollars" and "translate into a loss in market value of affected hotel properties."

The workload limits could also backfire for housekeepers who rely on overtime opportunities for additional income and cause hotel operators to hire part time workers or contract with third parties to meet the new limits.

The ordinance could also increase the workload for workers at unionized hotels, which are exempted from the ordinance, the report said.

Those workers could be "required to do more work than in non-union hotels for less take home pay."

Union officials said local hotel workers have publicly called for the policy, with some 200 Santa Monica room attendants endorsing the proposed measure.

"They are doing so because the reforms proposed -- including the prohibition on certain mandatory overtime -- will help them, not hurt them," union officials said in a statement issued after the report was released Tuesday.

"It's obvious that in attacking this policy, the hotel owners are seeking to protect their own interests, not that of the workers," the statement said.

The analysis in the report is based on data sources, previous studies and interviews with hotel operators in Santa Monica and in Long Beach and Oakland, which have enacted similar ordinances, the authors said.

The Long Beach ordinance, which the Santa Monica City Council indicated could serve as a model, sets strict "humane workload standards," the report said.

That ordinance prohibits hotels from "requiring a room cleaner to clean more than 4,000 square feet of rooms, but the limit would be reduced by 500 square feet for each check-out room, or room with more than one bed, over 6," according to the report

The Long Beach ordinance reduces "the maximum square-footage (but not the check-out or extra-bed provisions) for shifts less than eight hours. If a worker agrees to exceed the maximum, she or he must be paid double wages for the entire workday."

The provisions could be waived under a collective bargaining agreement, the report said.

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