Irvine became the first city in Orange County to vote to implement an ordinance seeking to protect hotel workers from sexual harassment and improve their working conditions earlier this year.

Other cities in Southern California like Long Beach, Los Angeles and Glendale have approved similar protections for hotel maids, as well as cities across the country like Chicago.

Questions remain, however, if that ordinance will continue to stay in effect in Irvine or if efforts by Unite Here 11, a local hotel workers union, to spread those protections to other cities across Orange County will be successful.

Similar efforts in Laguna Beach overwhelmingly failed during the November 2022 general election.

Hoteliers are also pushing back against the ordinance in Irvine raising concerns about the limits on how many rooms workers were expected to clean during daily shifts amid what they say is a workforce shortage.

Now they’re trying to revoke the ordinance in Irvine through a referendum.

“It’s disappointing to see that they’re grabbing signatures on the back of workers. They claim to be in support of workers, when in fact, what they want to do is take the provisions to safeguard them away from them,” said Unite Here II Co-President Ada Briceño.

Hoteliers Look To Revoke Irvine Ordinance Via Referendum

The ordinance in Irvine was passed on Nov. 22 after hotel maids showed up to city council meetings calling on council members to address the constant harassment they’ve faced at work from hotel guests.

Chants of “si se puede (yes we can)” erupt after the council votes 3-1 in favor of passing the protection ordinance for hotel workers in the city of Irvine. The ordinance goes into effect December 22. (Omar Sanchez / Voice of OC)

Hotel maids in Irvine have told the Voice of OC they’re working in nightmarish conditions where guests expose their private parts to them or even grab them and have to clean rooms that are incredibly filthy due room cleaning changes implemented during the pandemic.

[Read: Housekeepers’ Hellish Hotel Horrors: Could A Proposed Irvine Ordinance Protect Maids?]

When Irvine city council members put forward their suggested rules for hoteliers, there were two basic provisions. 

One required that all employees be issued panic buttons and resources to assist them should they ever be sexually assaulted or harassed while at work, which hotel owners had no issue providing. 

[Read: Irvine Boosts Hotel Housekeeper Protections Following Safety Concerns From Workers]

But the second part of the rules limits the total number of rooms employees can be required to clean on a shift, and requires a pay increase if managers force them to go over that cap, which multiple hoteliers said would negatively impact their business. 

“Hoteliers are going to end up saying we can’t staff more than 80% occupancy.” said Tony Bruno, managing director of the county chapter of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, at the Nov. 22 meeting. “We believe it’s an ordinance that’s being rushed and not good government.” 

A week after the rules were improved, the hotel association created a new group called Irvine Residents Protecting Hospitality. 

Voice of OC reached out to the law firm representing the committee for comment and did not receive a response.

While the group has yet to file any financial information with the city or state, both members of Unite Here 11 and Irvine residents have reported seeing signature gatherers throughout Irvine.  

To get on the ballot, the hotel lobby will have to gather over 15,000 valid signatures from registered Irvine voters, at which point it would go in front of the city council, who could either adopt it immediately or send it to the ballot for a vote of the people in 2024. 

A copy of the referendum obtained by Voice of OC asks residents to repeal the portion of the ordinance that would limit how much workers are required to clean. 

To review a copy of the referendum, click here

Briceno and Unite Here are trying to get people who may have signed accidentally to revoke their signature. 

“We cannot allow greedy corporations to take us backwards!” Briceno wrote in a statement. “IF YOU WERE DECEIVED INTO SIGNING, PLEASE REVOKE YOUR SIGNATURE!” 

As of Dec. 6, the petition has not been filed with the city. 

Laguna Beach Voters Deny Hotel Protection Ordinance

In Laguna Beach, residents this year overwhelmingly voted against Measure S – which would have amended the municipal code and implemented similar protections for hotel maids as well as create a $18 minimum wage for hotel workers.

Opposition to the measure received about 68% of the vote while support for the measure received about 32% of the vote.

Briceño said the union’s focus was elsewhere during the election season including on the Anaheim mayoral race.

“Unfortunately, we could not run the campaign that we wanted in Laguna Beach and so we had to pick our battles,” she said. “It’s very unfortunate that the voters couldn’t see the lies of the hoteliers.”

“Room attendants do not have more time for further sexual assault and exploitation.” UNITE HERE Local 11 co-president & Democratic Party of Orange County chair Ada Briceño speaks to the Council during public comments at the Irvine city council meeting on Nov. 22, 2022. (Omar Sanchez / Voice of OC)

Mayor Sue Kempf, City Councilman Bob Whalen and Chairman of the city’s Chamber of Commerce J.J. Ballesteros helped write arguments against the measure in which they claimed panic buttons have already been provided to workers at all hotels in Laguna Beach.

“Measure S forces our city to adopt unnecessary oversight regulations on hotels and resorts which could cost local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in new city staff funding which could decrease the money available for other vital city services,” they wrote.

Councilman George Weiss along with a couple hotel workers argued in favor of the measure.

“Hotel housekeepers are the backbone of our local tourist economy. As we continue to build back our economy, the working women who make this possible deserve a raise and safe working conditions,” they wrote.

Will Voters in Anaheim Get to Decide on Hotel Protections?

Unite Here 11 have also set their eyes on Anaheim to try to get similar protections passed in Orange County’s largest city – home to the Disneyland Resort.

They are in the process of gathering signatures to put a measure on hotel worker protections on a future ballot.

It remains unclear how many signatures have been gathered but they will need to have the support of 10% of the registered voters in Anaheim which is 16,785.

If they get the signatures, the council can decide to adopt the ordinance or bring it before voters at the next election, according to Maria Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Unite Here 11.

The resort makes up $226 million of the city’s $482 million general fund revenue, according to the current budget. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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