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Staff Recommends Hotel Housekeepers Ordinance But Raises Concerns
 

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By Jorge Casuso

August 12, 2019 -- The City Council this month should move forward with the union-backed hotel housekeepers' ordinance but should be wary of potential impacts, according to a report from the City's top policy official.

The proposed ordinance -- which will be taken up by the City Council August 27 -- requires hotels to install "panic buttons" in all guest rooms ("City to Draft Groundbreaking Ordinance Protecting Santa Monica Hotel Workers from Sexual Violence," October 26, 2018).

It also would protect the estimated 2,100 hotel housekeepers in Santa Monica's 41 hotels and motels from "unreasonable workloads" and provide comprehensive education and training.

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According to the information item from Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta, from 2008 to 2018, the City "has identified at least 29 incidents of hotel employees who reported being the victim of sexual battery, other sex offense, aggravated assault, or other assault."

Requireing panic buttons, however, would likely be unnecessary at larger hotels and could create an economic burden on smaller and older hotels and motels, the report cautioned.

Based on information collected by City staff, all of the lodging businesses that responded will have panic buttons installed and sexual harassment training in place by 2020.

In fact, some larger hotels are going beyond installing panic buttons and have invested in "discreet personal alarms that utilize technology to provide immediate response and minimize disruption," according to the report.

"Given the range of personal safety device options, Santa Monica hoteliers raised concerns about limiting the ordinance language to 'panic buttons,' which would also prohibit hoteliers from utilizing other safety technology devices," Gupta wrote.

The report also questions if smaller establishments would be able to absorb the cost of purchasing and installing a panic button system that "can run into the six figures" and would be difficult to install in older properties or concrete buildings.

The most controversial provision in the proposed ordinance would base a housekeepers' workload on square footage.

According to United HERE Local 11, hotels avoid paying overtime "by requiring burdensome workloads within the normal eight-hour workday, which undercuts the goal of the local minimum wage laws" such as the one adopted in Santa Monica, the report said.

But implementing the law may be difficult when Santa Monica hotels and motels vary widely in size.

Hotels range in size from as few as 14 guest rooms to as many as 340, while room sizes range from 150 square feet for a room with a single bed to 1,350 square feet for a suite, according to the report.

This points to "the potential challenge of implementing a 'one-size fits all' policy regarding safety and workload requirements for all lodging businesses," the report said.

The requirement would deviate from the general practice in the hotel industry of managing housekeepers’ workloads through a credit system.

That system is "based on time-motion studies conducted by consultants who monitor the length of time it takes for each cleaning task to be completed," according to the report.

Changing to a system based on square-footage could backfire, hotels owners cautioned.

"Hoteliers have stated concerns that their housekeepers will reach the square footage maximum in less than eight hours of work and, as such, they will either have to send the housekeepers home, incur overtime costs if staff is available or use alternative staffing approaches," Gupta wrote.

Despite the concerns, staff will recommend a square footage standard similar to that used in Long Beach, Seattle, Oakland and Emeryville, according to the report.

The provision would exempt union hotels, where workloads arre negotiated.

The proposed ordinance also requires educating and training hotel housekeepers on how to protect their rights, public health and safety, human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence.

Staff is exploring a model where the City would "determine the required elements of a training but require hotels to contract for and provide the training," Gupta wrote.

"City staff is also weighing whether such a model would exempt training areas adequately covered by the State requirements."

Enforcing the ordinance would require hiring two new full-time code enforcement officers at an annual cost of $370,200, the report said.

As an alternative, given its "ongoing budgetary concerns," the City could use civil and city enforcement models, which could result in "burdensome litigation."

"City staff acknowledges the potential for private litigation costs can significantly impact the hotel industry, adversely affecting the competitiveness of Santa Monica hotels in an increasingly challenging regional context," the report said.

The information item was prepared by Helen Yu, a management fellow.


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