More and more, Orange County cities are facing pressure to expand protections for hotel employees amidst protests from hoteliers to butt out of the issue entirely.
So far, the county’s most affluent cities have been split on the issue, with Irvine city leaders narrowly approving them last year while Laguna Beach voters overwhelmingly shot them down on the 2022 ballot.
[Read: Irvine Boosts Hotel Housekeeper Protections Following Safety Concerns From Workers]
Now, union leaders say they’re trying to put the issue in front of Anaheim voters, one of Orange County’s largest tourism hubs.
The ordinance brought forward by worker’s union Unite Here 11 requires that hotel owners give maids and other employees panic buttons in case guests harass them, along with time off to report harassment to the police or to seek counseling.
The rules would also limit the total number of rooms or square footage that hotel employees can be required to clean in one shift, depending on the size of the hotel. If they exceed that limit, the worker’s income is doubled for that entire shift.
The new rules in Irvine were approved last year after dozens of union members came out asking city leaders for heightened protections, with some publicly sharing stories of how they’d been sexually harassed by guests.
Similar rules have already been adopted across the country, in cities like Chicago, Long Beach and West Hollywood.
[Read: Housekeepers’ Hellish Hotel Horrors: Could A Proposed Irvine Ordinance Protect Maids?]
While Irvine hoteliers and the California Hotel and Lodging Association spent over half a million dollars supporting a voter referendum to overturn Irvine’s ordinance via a ballot referendum, they failed to gather enough signatures to put it to a vote.
[Read: Will Protections for Hotel Workers Stretch to All of Orange County or Die in Irvine?]
Ada Briceno, co-president of Unite Here 11, praised Irvine’s decision to move ahead with worker’s protections last October, and said they’re still trying to gather signatures to put the issue on the ballot for Anaheim voters in 2024.
“We’re grateful to the voters of Irvine for believing women and believing people who need protection,” Briceno said.
Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the California Hotel and Lodging Association, said while hoteliers have no issue with additional safety for workers, the square footage rules step over the line.
“Our opposition isn’t about safety. It’s about these onerous work rules that the large sponsor Unite Here, doesn’t even have to comply with,” Hillan said in an interview with Voice of OC. “These work rules put on top of after the pandemic, it really does have a detrimental effect. There’s only so much overregulation hotels can take without breaking.”
Under Irvine’s ordinance, hotels with contracts with unions like Unite Here are not bound by the rules because it would interfere with the collective bargaining agreements.
Briceno pushed back on that point, arguing most hotel union contracts include those types of protections. The union also works on these ordinances to make it an industry wide protection.
“Here we are after the pandemic once again seeing that the industry uses that to decrease workers and to add more work,” Briceno said. “This is a way for them to mitigate the wear and tear on their bodies.”
Hillan also claimed the rules would take away work from employees, given that they were restricted on how many rooms they could clean, potentially cutting overtime and even regular shifts.
“The proponents use a safety argument, which is anecdotal at best, to bake in square footage rules that ultimately take away work from our employees,” Hillan said. “It ultimately hurts the working time of employees.”
When asked for data to support that claim, Hillan said there isn’t enough evidence in Irvine yet because the law only went into effect in December, but that it was a trend they’d seen in Santa Monica and West Hollywood.
He also added that the numbers were difficult to review due to the pandemic cutting work hours for all their employees over the past two years.
“Our data is not apples to apples in large part because of the pandemic,” Hillan said.
While Irvine approved the rules, the voters of Laguna Beach overwhelmingly shot down a ballot measure that would’ve instituted similar rules there, with 68% of voters going against it.
Hillan said despite their failure in Irvine they remain committed to opposing the new rules in other Orange County cities, but the unions are planning to keep pushing the issue to Anaheim and beyond.
“We’re used to them trying to stop us at every corner,” Briceno said. “Our workers are going to fight.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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