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L.A. City Council Addresses Workload of Hotel Housekeepers

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In case you missed it, on June 21 the Los Angeles City Council approved a measure that will reduce the workload for hotel housekeepers. According to the Los Angeles Times, most hotels in the city of Los Angeles will be required to limit the daily workload of housekeepers, offer overtime pay under certain circumstances, provide “panic buttons” to protect their workers from sexual harassment and do away with policies that automatically forgo daily cleaning.

Unite Here Local 11, a union representing Southern California hotel workers, filed more than 110,000 signatures on a petition to put the measure on the city’s November 8 ballot. Instead, the council voted 10 to 3 to bypass the ballot process and adopt the measure outright. A second, mostly procedural vote was scheduled for yesterday. The measure takes effect about 30 days later.

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

The hotel housekeepers measure was opposed by business and hospitality trade groups, which told the council Tuesday that the law would lead to higher labor costs, higher room rates and a drop in tourists.

An Environmental Impact?

Heather Rozman, Executive Director of the 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 a time 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 the use of water, as well as electricity and gas in perpetuity,” she said.

Unite Here Local 11 had also backed similar ballot measures that were adopted 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 packed the council chambers, spoke out in favor of the measure and chanted, “Si, se puede” (Yes, we can) during the meeting.

The measure was championed by City Councilman Kevin de Leon, who described hotel workers as “the backbone of our economy.”

“They shouldn’t have to wait until November” for the measure to be adopted, he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”

Some Said More Economic Analysis Needed

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

“This is not how this body makes policy,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said.

The measure is intended to reduce the workload for hotel housekeepers, who earn an hourly wage of less than $18 in Los Angeles and suffer some of the highest injury rates among service industry workers.

The workload of housekeepers has increased, according to union leaders, because most hotels have not returned to full staffing since the height of the pandemic, and the end of daily room cleaning means short-staffed housekeepers must clean several days’ worth of trash, grime and used towels. Unite Here leaders say the elimination of daily cleaning enables hotels to justify hiring fewer housekeepers and demand more from those workers who remain.

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

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

Requirement to Limit Number of Rooms Cleaned

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

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

Hotels must also supply housekeepers with panic buttons, devices they can use to summon help in case of a sexual harassment or attack.

Under pressure from unions and workers, the nation’s largest hotels and the country’s hotel trade group voluntarily adopted a policy in 2018 to offer workers panic buttons to address such safety concerns.

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

“The reality here is that the Hotel Workers Initiative will cripple hotels that fought to remain open through the pandemic,” Stuart Waldman, the group’s President, said in a statement. “The Initiative will force hotels to hire more staff and reduce hours for current employees. Labor is expensive. Some hotels can’t afford to implement the Initiative.”

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