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OPINION -- Local 11's Changing Definition of Workplace Safety

By Charlyce Bozzello

A controversial Local 11-backed law in Santa Monica will regulate work schedules for hotel housekeepers.

The City Council enacted it over the objections of housekeepers, and with full knowledge that a similar law is under legal scrutiny in Long Beach ("Santa Monica Council Unanimously Approves Groundbreaking Hotel Ordinance," August 28, 2019).

A close reading of the Long Beach litigation illuminates the shaky legal ground on which Local 11's law resides.

The law's provisions originated in a petition filed by Local 11 in 2012 with the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA).

The union recommended placing "limitations on the total square footage space that may be assigned to housekeepers to clean during an 8-hour shift," among other changes.

It described these standards as "a safety and health standard to address the occupational hazards faced by housekeepers in the hotel and hospitality industry."

The Board ended up rejecting the union’s desired square footage limit.

Undeterred, Local 11 took its square footage proposal to the Long Beach City Council and, eventually, to the ballot box where it passed into law.

There's just one problem: Cal/OSHA is the "the only agency in the state authorized to adopt occupational safety and health standards."

In other words, Local 11's preferred local law is preempted by state law.

Intellectual consistency has never been the union's strong suit, and it responded to the lawsuit against Long Beach by denying its own 2012 description of the law's purpose.

In one court filing, the union says the law "is not an occupational safety and health standard..."

Get that? In the space of a few years, the square footage requirement went from "a safety and health standard to address....occupational hazards" to "not an occupational safety and health standard."

This legal challenge of Long Beach's law will be heard before a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge next month.

If the judge is skeptical of the union's inconsistent health and safety definitions, Santa Monica may find its own law under scrutiny before long.

Charlyce Bozzello is a communications director at the Center for Union Facts

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