Facing a push to increase safety and workload regulations at hotels, a group of representatives from the Long Beach Hospitality Alliance gave a presentation at the August 15 city council meeting, highlighting their contributions to the city and the steps they have taken to protect employees.


About 18 months ago, a group of women spoke during the public comment period of a city council meeting about concerns facing hotel employees, such as sexual harassment by guests.


“There have been zero reported sexual harassment claims in Long Beach, and we know that because we pulled a police record to see if there were any reported claims in the last 10 years and we didn’t find any,” Kristi Allen, vice president of hotel operations at Hotel Maya, told the Business Journal.


Even so, she said, the alliance sponsored a training session on self-defense in response to the statements made in public comment. It also conducts trainings on CPR, recognizing human trafficking, self-defense and active-shooter response. These are in addition to any safety trainings already conducted at individual hotels, Allen said.


The August 15 presentation at the council meeting included a video in which hotel employees spoke about positive experiences in their workplace. Speakers included Allen; Imran Ahmed, general manager of the Long Beach Marriott; and Jennifer Robinson, who manages the largest department in that hotel.


“It was clear in this industry that I would not be wealthy in the bank but wealthy in my heart,” Robinson said, addressing the city council. “It’s more than just a 28-year career. It’s become a way of life. It’s become a family to me. So many times, I’ve been asked, ‘Why stay at a location for so long?’ And I tell you: it’s the people, the company.”


The alliance presented an infographic detailing their contributions to the city’s economy. More than 82% of Long Beach hotel workers are city residents and taxpayers. The transient occupancy tax (TOT), which travelers pay when they rent accommodations, has increased along with occupancy rates in the last couple of years. Half the TOT is paid directly to the city’s general fund and half is paid to the special advertising and promotion fund to attract more visitors to the city.


“For now, our projected growth looks strong, but we have to look out for government and outside influence,” Allen said at the presentation.


Labor union UNITE HERE Local 11 and groups such as the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) are pushing for the city to adopt an ordinance that would limit the workloads of hotel employees and enact measures that aim to protect them against sexual assault, according to a video released by LAANE on August 18. Supporters for the ordinance are expected to present at a city council meeting in September, said Mike Murchison, a local lobbyist representing the hotel industry.


Others in the industry expressed concern as to how these guidelines would affect business and questioned their necessity in a working environment where they haven’t received any complaints.


“Having read some of the flyers circulated about this, I understand they want signs up in rooms and hallways stating something about how employees are protected from sexual assault,” Allen said. “If I was walking through a hotel in a city that I had not been to and I saw a sign that said ‘No Sexual Assault’ or ‘You’re Being Monitored,’ I would be very concerned that I was in a dangerous city. I’d probably check out, to be honest.”


Murchison said he thinks the ordinance is actually a ploy to increase union membership under the pretext of improving public safety. Some of the largest hotels in Long Beach are not unionized.


“What about motels? If the council is so concerned about hotel employees, they should go look at the retail industry, go look at the restaurant industry. . . . [UNITE HERE] is trying to get hotels to capitulate and join the union,” Murchison said.


Murchison estimated that adopting regulations would cost hotels “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and would also impact the city, as it would have to expend the resources to verify hotel compliance. He said he plans to organize around 200 representatives of the hotel industry to attend the September council meeting.


In their response to the August 15 meeting, councilmembers gave particular notice to the fact that 82% of Long Beach hotel workers also live in the city. “That number really speaks to Long Beach residents who are here day in and day out, playing in our parks, going to our schools, whose kids are taken care of because their parents have a place to work,” said 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo. “That’s really impressive.”


Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce, who prior to being eleected to the city council served as a senior organizer for eight years for LAANE,  pointed out that “there are two sides to every story.”


“The truth is often somewhere in the middle,” she said. “The fact that 600 people attended a safety class is a flag to me that we need this. When we have housekeepers knocking on bedroom doors by themselves, we need this training.”


Allen clarified that the personnel safety session the alliance hosted was, in fact, mandatory for all Hotel Maya employees who enter guest rooms alone.