People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Juana Melara, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Gary Hytrek of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and Healthy Community, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.
Hotel workers and advocates call to end abuse in the hospitality industry during a demonstration in front of Long Beach City Hall in 2015. File photo by Stephanie Rivera.
There is unfinished business in Long Beach. As more and more women have recounted stories of sexual harassment in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's firing, Mayor Garcia and a majority of council members have stood silent. As this powerful moment in history spurs a consensus around the need to listen and trust women and their stories, action on critical protections for all working women is urgent. Nowhere is this more true than in the Long Beach hotel industry where Juana Melara, a hotel housekeeper and leader in our Coalition’s Stand with Women Against Abuse campaign, was recognized by TIME Magazine as part of a group of women from across the country known as the Silence Breakers.
In Long Beach, immigrant women of color, like Juana, who work in the city’s hotel industry have been speaking up about their experiences with sexual harassment and workplace abuse for years. No one seemed to listen. They approached Mayor Robert Garcia and the City Council several times, bravely sharing their stories and asking for help to remedy their intolerable situation. Only four city council members heard their pleas, the rest did what many have done when women raise concerns about workplace conditions; they looked the other way. In this case, actually voting down an ordinance that would have enacted protection for hotel workers from sexual assault and inhumane workloads.
This coming Tuesday however, four of the five council members who voted to ignore workers like Juana back in September, seem to feel differently about sexual harassment. They are set to request a review of the city’s Unlawful Harassment Complaints policy and procedures to ensure that all city “employees have a safe work environment and feel safe to report incidents.” While we agree this is important, the irony is coldly clear. It is also disappointing. For these city council members to acknowledge the challenges women face daily only after the “current dialogue on the issue” has grown in severity is hypocritical, especially by those who just two months ago, characterized the Hospitality Workload & Safety Ordinance as not “sound public policy,” lacking “supporting facts” and without a “record of reported incidents.” Long Beach deserves better.
While we applaud the city for finally looking at ways to address sexual harassment, you cannot expect us to stay silent when our elected representatives support the protection of women in one industry while allowing physical and sexual abuse to continue in another—especially an industry as large and as important to Long Beach as hospitality.
Although we feel betrayed and angered by the failure of Mayor Robert Garcia and city council members to stand with protecting hotel workers, we remain committed to ending inhumane workloads and sexual abuse in the Long Beach hospitality industry.
Juana Melara, former Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga and Gary Hytrek, are all Long Beach community members and leaders within the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community.