U.S. District Court issues order to allow City of Santa Monica’s Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance to take effect
By Sam Catanzaro
The U.S. District Court has issued an order allowing the workload provisions of the City of Santa Monica’s Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance to go into effect as planned on January 1, 2020 after a hotel owner and management group sought to invalidate these provisions of the law, which strengthens workplace safety and compensation protections for Santa Monica’s 2,100 hotel housekeepers.
The law received unanimous City Council support when it passed in August.
“The court has validated Santa Monica’s compassionate concern for the safety of hotel workers, whose hard labor makes possible our successful hospitality sector,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown.
Columbia Sussex Management and CW Hotel Limited Partnership filed a complaint arguing that the ordinance was unconstitutional and invalid. They sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the workload provisions of the ordinance from going into effect on January 1. Judge Otis Wright’s order denies the request for preliminary injunction and finds that plaintiffs have not shown a likelihood of success on any of their claims made under the National Labor Relations Act, the dormant commerce clause, and the California Occupational Safety & Health Act.
To date, the cities of Long Beach, Oakland, Emeryville and Seattle have adopted similar ordinances through ballot measures approved by voters.
Consideration for Santa Monica to develop hotel worker protection began in 2018 when representatives of the hospitality union UNITE HERE! Local 11 (Local 11) presented a set of recommendations related to hospitality worker protection to Santa Monica’s Commission on the Status of Women (COSW).
The rules provide hotel housekeepers with safety protections to prevent sexual violence through mandatory personal security devices and the ability to report criminal and threatening behavior without fear of retaliation; set daily workload maximums of 4,000 square feet for hotels with less than 40 guest rooms and 3,500 square feet for hotels with greater than 40 rooms, and requires a double-overtime compensation rate for all hours worked beyond these limits; mandatory training on rights, safety, and education to protect public health and prevent human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence; requires hotel worker retention for a 90-day transition period in instances of a change in hotel ownership.
“We are the strength of this industry and we know best what we need to have dignity and respect in the workplace. After working in Santa Monica for so many years, I feel proud that I was part of putting together a policy that protects my coworkers and me at work. This policy makes me feel recognized as truly part of this community and seen by this city,” said Aurelia Gonzales a Housekeeper at the JW Marriott Le Merigot for 18 years back in August.
While support for the safety protections for hotel housekeepers was nearly unanimous among lawmakers and stakeholders, the daily square footage cap was a topic of debate during the council debate.
“I don’t believe that makes sense for anyone. They should not be basing our work off of square feet,” said Roxana Fuentes Segovia, another housekeeper at JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot. “When I reach my limit I would have to get sent home after only working three, four or five hours. I would be considered a ‘part-time’ employee, which means that I would not receive any benefits. The only ones that will benefit from this proposal would be the Local 11 Union.”
A supersession condition is included in the ordinance exempting members of Local 11 from the square footage cap under collective bargaining agreements.
Laurel Rosen President and CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, echoed these concerns in remarks delivered to Council, saying that a square footage cap could “upend” life for hotel housekeepers, put an added burden on small businesses and add strain to the city’s budget through potential loss of tax revenue from the tourism and hotel industry.
“Sometimes what sounds good on paper may have unintended consequences,” Rosen said. “Limiting housekeepers to a certain number of square feet will force hotels to send them home after just a few hours, causing them to lose income and benefits they and their families survive on.”
The ordinance will be enforced through a civil enforcement model and will take effect on a rolling basis by provision: the worker retention provision becomes effective upon the effective date of the ordinance in October, the safety protections and workload/overtime provisions take effect on January 1, 2020 and training will be required by January 1, 2021.