Last year, the local hotel industry, particularly in Downtown Long Beach, was under the spotlight as union groups and labor advocacy organizations pushed for two major hotels to unionize and for stronger protections for workers.


These issues came to a head when an ordinance that would have established safety provisions and workload restrictions for hotel workers was brought forth by four councilmembers and rejected by the remaining members of the council in September. Now, the community backers of that ordinance are making moves to take the matter to the voters of Long Beach in November.


On January 25, members of the nonprofit Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community filed paperwork with the city clerk to collect signatures to place a measure on the ballot that, if passed, would amend the municipal code to create hotel working condition requirements. According to City Clerk Monique DeLaGarza, she immediately forwarded the petition to collect signatures to the city attorney, who has 15 days (from the original filing date) to prepare a ballot statement and summary.


Victor Sánchez, director of the Long Beach Coalition, said the proposal is very similar to that proposed by four councilmembers last year. Sánchez is also the director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s (LAANE) Long Beach coalition. LAANE is a pro-labor nonprofit that was involved in organizing pro-union protests outside downtown hotels for the past few years.


“What we’re trying to do is cast as wide a net as we can around providing hotel workers with the opportunities to have protections in the workplace from abuse,” Sánchez said. “And this can be from sexual harassment, assault [or] physical abuse. And we want to make sure that they have avenues to protect themselves.”


He noted that in September, 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price questioned why the then-proposed ordinance applied only to hotels with more than 100 rooms. The new proposal applies to hotels with 50 rooms or more.


If passed, hotels would be required to provide workers with panic buttons, post notices in rooms that state “The Law Protects Hotel Housekeepers and Hotel Employees From Threatening Behavior,” and other safety provisions. It also creates workload restrictions, including: limiting the amount of square footage room cleaners are required to clean to 4,000 square feet in any one, eight-hour work day; requiring consent to work overtime 30 days in advance; and other requirements.


Like the city council proposal, this measure includes a waiver for unionized hotels. The workload restrictions may be waived “in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver is explicitly set forth in such agreement in clear and unambiguous terms,” the measure, which Sánchez provided, states. “Unilateral implementation of terms and conditions of employment by either party to a collective bargaining relationship shall not constitute, or be permitted, as a waiver of all or any part of the provisions of this section [of municipal code].”


Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and liaison to the chamber’s Long Beach Hospitality Alliance, called out the effort as a disguised attempt to force hotels to unionize.


“The hospitality industry in Long Beach continues to lead the way in ensuring our employees are safe, as our industry has implemented best safety practices; provided tools and the corresponding training to educate employees about correct procedures; and worked with clear data and transparent agendas to achieve a secure hospitality working environment,” Harris told the Business Journal. “This potential ballot measure is not about safety. It is about forcing our hotels that are non-union to enter into a collective bargaining agreement by trying to pass onerous regulations under the guise of safety. We’ve said it once and we will say it again, we are more than happy to sit down with the unions and discuss safety. Because we already know we do a very good job of keeping our employees safe.”