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Fate of Measure WW to be determined November, other hotel ordinance passed at city council meeting

Measure and ordinance both seek hotel protections, but they provide different strategies, according to LB official and advocates

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Alicia Quiros was working her night shift as a hotel-room server one evening when she got a food request. As she made her way to the room and knocked on the patron’s door minutes later, a man donning only a towel answered. He urged Quiros to simply set the food on his bed and stay awhile.

“I’m thinking, ‘There’s no security at this hotel. I don’t have anyway to contact anyone. I’m completely by myself, as well, with this man,’” she said this week in a phone interview. “[…] In my head, I’m trying to calculate, if he does something to me, how am I going to escape? If I tell him ‘no,’ the guest is going to get mad, because the guest is always right. That’s how they are in the hotel industry. So, that night I took a risk and told him I wasn’t going in. I was scared, I was terrified. My heart was beating, and I didn’t know what to do.”

Although Quiros avoided harm’s way, risky situations such as hers are the reason why local advocates are adamant about implementing stricter protections for hotel workers in Long Beach. This November, residents will determine the fate of Measure WW, which will implement said protections by providing panic buttons– electronic-contact devices that alert on-site security in an emergency– to hotel employees at institutions with more than 50 rooms. The measure would require hotels to post notices of the procedure in guest rooms.

In addition to panic buttons, the measure would also prohibit hotel employers from requiring a room cleaner to maintain more than 4,000 square feet of floorspace during an eight-hour work day, unless the employers pay twice the regular rate of pay for all hours worked. It would also prohibit a hotel employer from assigning an employee more than 10 hours during any work day, unless the employee provides written consent, according to the City’s impartial analysis by attorney Charles Parkin at bit.ly/2JfIFPZ via longbeach.gov.

Although the measure will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, the Long Beach City Council at its meeting Oct. 23 approved, in a 5-0 vote, to adopt a similar ordinance that would mandate panic buttons at all hotels, regardless of the size of the institution, and other precautions in the event of emergencies. The details of the ordinance can be found at bit.ly/2ArLKtg, per the Long Beach City Council agenda.

On Nov. 13, the city council will conduct a second read of the ordinance, and then the mayor will have 30 days to sign it into law.

Linda Vu, deputy city attorney, told the Signal Tribune Oct. 24 that, although similar, Measure WW and the new hotel ordinance will not conflict or supersede each other in the event that the former passes Nov. 6. Vu said that when the city council requested a “process to prepare” for the ordinance in September, a section of the document addressed the impact it may have with other ordinances.

“Let’s just say that, hypothetically, Measure WW passes,” she said. “[…] We would have to compare the actual provision, the ordinance that passed [Oct. 23], and Measure WW and see which one is more strict. The one that imposes the greater restrictions or requirements would control. We can’t really compare this ordinance to Measure WW, per se, because they might not completely conflict in all respects in the same way where one might be stricter in one code, and the other might be stricter in other respects. So, we have to take it on a case-by-case basis.”

In a phone interview with the Signal Tribune this week, Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the Long Beach Hospitality Alliance who has worked in the industry for more than a decade, said his group is against Measure WW and is satisfied with the council’s decision to adopt a separate ordinance.

“What’s good about the ordinance is that it’s going to protect all hotel workers, whereas Measure WW is only aimed at protecting those at larger hotels with 50-plus rooms,” he said. “[…] We can deduct that the ordinance is all about safety and is about safety for all workers.”

Hillan’s criticism mostly stems from an economic-impact analysis, commissioned by the City and prepared by BAE Urban Economics, that reviewed the potential influence Measure WW may have on the city and hotel industry.

Submitted Oct. 11, the report concludes that, potentially, the transient-occupancy tax could lead to an annual cumulative loss of $8.1 million. The analysis shows that the protections will provide “modest impact on hotel operations and can be absorbed by hotel operations without significant costs,” but that the “Humane Workload provisions […] represent a fundamental shift in current housekeeping practices […] and will impose staffing costs that are unlikely to be recouped by higher room rates. Existing hotel properties could accordingly have lower profit levels, which may tend to have a dampening effect on investments to improve properties and on-sales prices as hotels change hands in the future.”

The full report can be found at bit.ly/2CEXDxw, via longbeach.gov. The Signal Tribune reached out to Sergio Ramirez, deputy director of economic development, who is attached as a potential contact on the report, but did not hear back by press time.

Hillan said that, although its intentions are good, Measure WW has the most restrictive work rules in the nation, and it will be too costly for smaller institutions that would have to accommodate extra expenses to provide the employee regulations. He also said that standard work days for workers are already “fair.”

“It’s not over-the-top, but it’s, you know, a full work day for them,” he said. “[…] If the restrictions are there– as it is now, many workers can apply for it and get overtime, as they often do, because they’d like to make more money– that’s going to be gone.”

In a joint phone interview with the Signal Tribune Wednesday morning, Quiros and Juana Melara, local hotel worker and housekeeper who has 23-years work experience in the industry and was featured last year as one of the “silence breakers” on TIME Magazine’s Person of The Year, discussed their viewpoints on Measure WW.

When asked about the economic-impact report’s conclusion that Measure WW might have negative financial implications for the city and industry, Melara chalked it up to city officials not wanting to protect its residents.

“I don’t think this will have the type of impact that they are saying,” Melara said. “[…] We collected the signatures– 27,000– and now it’s on the ballot. We had to go through that process because the city council didn’t support that law at all. They had two chances to do it– twice– and both times they declined it.”

Quiros, who campaigns for Measure WW and has experience in hospitality, said she is “heartbroken” and “angry” that the City has decided to “silence women.”

“Juana is right– the city is not going to be affected by this,” she said. “If anything, people in our country, people in our city, my neighbors– they know that I’ve worked in the hospitality industry, and they’re asking me what they can do. They want Measure WW to pass in our city. They want to protect women. Our city wants it. The people want this. It’s the billionaire companies and the elected officials that are joining together and saying, ‘Be quiet. We don’t want to hear from women anymore.’”

Residents can inform themselves about Measure WW and the recently passed hotel ordinance at the links provided above.

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Fate of Measure WW to be determined November, other hotel ordinance passed at city council meeting