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Council Adds Last-Minute Worker Retention Provision to Hotel Ordinance

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By Jorge Casuso

August 14, 2019 -- Worried a proposed ordinance to protect Santa Monica hotel workers does not go far enough, the City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to add a worker retention provision.

The last-minute change will add the provision to a union-backed ordinance the Council is expected to approve August 27 that protects workers from sexual violence and heavy workloads.

In making the motion, Councilmember Kevin McKeown said he worried the well-intentioned legislation could backfire if it leads to layoffs.

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"There's at least one hotel in town that I'm hearing is talking about just replacing its housekeeping staff by outsourcing those jobs, which would be exactly counter to what we're hoping for," McKeown said.

Without adding the provision, he said, "we might actually be putting the very people we are trying to protect at greater risk. So I am hopeful we can remedy that tonight."

McKeown's motion comes after an information item sent to the City Council this week noted that basing workloads on square footage could have unintended consequences ("Staff Recommends Hotel Housekeepers Ordinance But Raises Concerns," August 12, 2019).

According to the report, hotel owners have said they "will either have to send the housekeepers home, incur overtime costs if staff is available or use alternative staffing approaches."

Anuj Gupta, the City's policy director, told the Council that none of the four California cities with a hotel worker ordinance has included a retention policy. Seattle is the only city with such a provision, he said.

Councilmembers suggested that staff look at Santa Monica's local worker retention ordinance for supermarket employees as a possible model.

"It's really beneficial to have the same people there," said Councilmember Ted Winterer. "There are advantages to businesses as well as workers."

The Chamber of Commerce, however, expressed concerns about hastily adding a provision without input froom the businesses it will impact.

Chamber representative Matt Stauffer asked the Council to delay voting on the ordinance "to give all the stakeholders more time to consider the legal and policy implications of such a policy."

While several council members seemed open to pushing back a vote to September 10, McKeown said the ordinance, which the Council had voted to draft last October, had been delayed enough.

"I just don't support postponement," McKeown said. "I just don't.

"I want to strongly urge that we put this together as a package" and vote on the ordinance on August 27.

City Attorney Lane Dilg said "it won't be easy" to come up with the provision in the six days required to get the measure on the agenda.

"This is a big ask," she said. "It will get done, but it will be a considerable amount of time and a considerable effort."

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