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Union Protests Fully Reopening Hotels, Cites Health Concerns
By Jorge Casuso
June 24, 2020 -- As Santa Monica hotels begin to fully reopen under a recent County order, the local hotel union is protesting the decision, saying it puts hospitality workers in danger during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter sent Friday to the County Board of Supervisors, union officials expressed "alarm" at the County Health Department's recent order allowing hotels, motels and short-term rentals to fully reopen on June 12.
The County should "immediately pause" the reopening of hotels, Unite HERE Local 11 wrote, acknowledging that more than 90 percent of hospitality workers are unemployed due to the coronavirus shutdown.
"We are alarmed by the haste, lack of input, and failure to investigate current conditions and practices at opened hotels," the union leaders wrote.
"We do not make this request lightly," the letter said. "Our members have been devastated by this pandemic" and "need to work.
"However, the health of workers, their families, and guests must come before the hotel industry’s desire to reopen for tourism."
The letter was signed by union Co-presidents Ada F. Briceño, Susan Minato and Kurt Peterson.
The union membership was not consulted in the request to halt the reopenings, union officials said.
The request comes as Santa Monica hotels begin reopening for guests after shuttering or partially reopening to accommodate only "essential" workers during the COVID-19 emergency.
The local tourism industry -- which was crippled by the coronavirus shutdown -- is a main revenue source for the City, contributing $58.6 million to the general fund through bed taxes in 2018 and accounting for nearly 13,000 jobs.
The eagerly anticipated reopenings are expected to help bridge a looming $150 million budget deficit that has forced the City Council to slash programs and services.
Misti Kerns, SMTT's president and CEO, said Santa Monica hotels are taking extra measures to address the safety of workers and guests.
"The travel industry is hard at work providing peace of mind with a safe and clean experience for all with special care and increased procedures and guidelines for cleaning and sanitation," Kerns said.
Union officials on Wednesday said some 60 union workers rallied in Downtown Los Angeles Wednesday morning to protest the re-openings.
"The County’s decision gave the hotels less than 24 hours to train staff and implement the County’s multiple pages of safety protocols," union officials said in a press release Wednesday.
"The County also failed to engage hospitality workers or their representatives for input into safety guidelines," they said. "Workers report widespread violations of health and safety standards already.
"The rushed reopening will put a predominately low-income Latino and African American workforce at risk to serve predominantly white and wealthy customers," the release stated.
The Center for Union Facts, a critic of the hotel union, denounced Unite HERE Local 11's request to halt the reopening.
"Given that over 90 percent of the union's members are unemployed, you'd think the reopening of hotels would be cause for celebration," the Center said in a statement to the Lookout.
"But apparently, Local 11 wants hotels to open on its say so, or not at all, regardless of what would be in its members' best interest," the Center wrote.
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