LA approves measure to reduce workload for housekeepers in hotels

Most hotels in the City of Los Angeles will be required to limit the daily workload of housekeepers, offer overtime pay in certain circumstances, provide “panic buttons” to protect their workers from sexual harassment and remove policies that automatically waive daily cleaning, under a measure approved by the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday.

Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hospitality workers in Southern California, filed more than 110,000 signatures on a petition seeking to put the measure on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot. Instead, the council voted 10-3 to bypass the ballot process and pass the measure outright. A second vote, essentially procedural, is scheduled for June 28. The measure takes effect approximately 30 days later.

The move comes as Los Angeles tourism executives hope to see a rebound in the region’s tourism industry, which was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, Los Angeles County welcomed 50 million international and domestic visitors, who spent $22 billion, according to Los Angeles tourism officials. But in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, visitor numbers fell to 27.7 million, with tourism spending plunging to $10 billion. Tourism experts estimate the county welcomed around 40 million visitors in 2021.

In addition to the measure for hospitality workers, the council also approved raising the minimum wage for some healthcare workers to $25 an hour. A group of unions had also collected enough signatures for this measure to go to the polls this fall.

The measure on housekeepers in hotels was opposed by business groups and hospitality professionals, who told the council on Tuesday that the law would lead to higher labor costs, tariffs higher room rates and a drop in the number of tourists.

Heather Rozman, Executive Director of Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, which opposed the measure, also suggested that by reintroducing daily room cleaning, the measure would force hotels to use more water in times of “unprecedented drought”. At the start of the pandemic, many hotels eliminated daily room cleaning, saying the move reduced the risk of spreading COVID-19 between hotel workers and guests.

“Mandatory daily room cleaning would increase water usage, as well as electricity and gas in perpetuity,” she said.

Unite Here Local 11 had also backed similar ballot measures that had been passed in Long Beach, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Glendale, but were rejected by voters in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The council heard testimony from several of the housekeepers who filled the council chambers, came out in favor of the measure and chanted: “Yes, it sucks(Yes, we can) during the meeting.

The measure was championed by city councilor Kevin de Leon, who described hospitality workers as “the backbone of our economy”.

“They shouldn’t have to wait until November” for the measure to pass, he said. “It’s a matter of fairness.”

Council members who opposed the measure said it was premature to pass it without an economic analysis of its effects.

“That’s not how this body makes policy,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said.

The measure aims to reduce the workload of hotel housekeepers, who earn less than $18 an hour in Los Angeles and suffer some of the the highest accident rates among workers in the service sector.

The workload of housekeepers has increased, according to union leaders, because most hotels have not returned to full staff since the height of the pandemic, and the end of daily room cleaning means that short-staffed housekeepers have to clean several days of trash, grime and used towels. Unite Here executives say eliminating daily cleaning allows hotels to justify hiring fewer housekeepers and demanding more from workers who stay behind.

In January, The Times followed a day in the life of a hotel housekeeper, who kept a diary detailing grueling times working conditions during the pandemic.

Under the new measure, hotels are not allowed to automatically waive daily cleaning, but hotel guests can request to waive daily room cleaning.

Additionally, hotels with at least 45 rooms will be required to limit the number of rooms — based on total square footage — a housekeeper must clean in an eight-hour workday. Square footage limits will be determined by hotel size, room types, and whether the housekeeper must clean rooms on different floors, among other factors.

The measure also prohibits hotels from requiring housekeepers to work more than 10 hours per shift without their written consent. In addition, a previous minimum wage ordinance that applied to hotels with 150 or more rooms will be extended to hotels with 60 or more rooms. The minimum salary is now $17.64 per hour.

Hotels must also provide housekeepers with panic buttons, devices they can use to summon help in the event of sexual harassment or assault.

Under pressure from unions and workers, the country’s largest hotels and the country’s hotel group have voluntarily adopted a policy in 2018 to provide workers with panic buttons to address these safety issues.

The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., based in the San Fernando Valley, released a statement opposing the housekeeping measure, saying it would make running a hotel more expensive.

“The reality here is that the Hotel Workers Initiative will cripple hotels that have fought to stay open during the pandemic,” Stuart Waldman, chairman of the group, said in a statement. “The initiative will require hotels to hire more staff and reduce the hours of current employees. Labor is expensive. Some hotels do not have the means to implement the Initiative.

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