File photo by Stephanie Rivera.
The City of Long Beach will soon hear from its city manager and human resources department regarding the extent to which the city has an issue with harassment, sexual or otherwise, and how it remedies those claims.
However, the request for the item discussed Tuesday night may have exposed divisions lingering among the council, and ironically, possible political retaliation against one council member for a vote he made earlier this year on hotel workers’ protections.
While the item requested the city manager’s office to return to the council with an update on the city’s policy and all complaints logged over the past five years for possible violations of it, the trajectory of the conversation was quickly redirected by public commenters who shamed the council for pushing an item to protect city workers from harassment while refusing to do the same for hotel workers just a few months ago.
In September, five council members voted against crafting an ordinance and instead supported a resolution that supported hospitality workers’ protections including their ability to unionize. The ordinance that failed sought to install protections for hotel workers including panic buttons and workload caps but also allowed unionized workers to be exempted from its protections, which multiple members of the council cited in voting against its passage.
Since then, mailers blasting Eighth District Councilman Al Austin on issues ranging from housing to the hotel vote itself have been distributed to residences across the city. One in particular blames Austin for Claudia’s Law not being adopted. Austin was joined by council members Dee Andrews, Stacy Mungo, Suzie Price and Daryl Supernaw in voting against it in the 5-4 vote.
In conversations after Tuesday night’s meeting some council members said that they believe the mailers are directly tied to Austin’s vote on the hotel matter in September as the union seeks to punish Austin for voting against it.
It is unclear why he has been singled out among the five dissenting council members or why such a multitude of issues have been covered by the mailers. The issues have included a unanimous vote by the council in 2014 to continue to allow the Port of Long Beach to export coal and petcoke to a 2015 vote by the council not to approve a rent escrow account program that was aimed at protecting tenants from bad landlords who refused to repair habitability issues in units in a timely manner.
Many of them have Austin’s name spelled with a dollar sign replacing the “S”.
A photo of one of the mailers being sent out attacking Austin that was obtained by the Post.
The mailers are being financed in part by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO which has been a prominent voice in the hotel workers issue as well as many other issues in the city including the minimum wage increase passed by the council. Rusty Hicks, the union’s executive secretary treasurer, spoke in support of Claudia’s Law prior to the council voting it down.
In an email Hicks said a “review of the entire mail campaign shows that Al Austin has consistently failed to put the public interest ahead of his own.”
The shaming for voting down Claudia’s Law continued Tuesday night as the discussion shifted from the harassment report to rehashing the failed September 19 ordinance.
Juana Melara, a Long Beach hotel worker who was recently honored as Person of the Year along with other “Silence Breakers” by TIME Magazine, told the Post last week that she was disappointed by the council’s decision against the item, but vowed to move forward in pressing for more worker protections.
Others criticized Tuesday night’s vote as damaging to the very cause they were trying to promote, including promoting a harassment-free work environment in the city and strengthening the abilities for victims to come forward.
Christine Petit, executive director of Building Healthy Communities Long Beach, said the comments made during the September meeting may have prevented some victims from coming forward as the council members’ comments set the example for the rest of the city’s employees. If the council is dismissive of allegations, why would anyone come forward she asked.
“If I was a city employee or council staff I would think that maybe if I came forward with my experience of harassment that maybe it would be dismissed,” Petit said. “While you might think that this testimony is twisting this item, what you say up here on all items sets the the tone for the culture in Long Beach.”
Long Beach resident and local activist Zoe Nicholson said that she would not applaud the council’s efforts to introduce this item to ensure that its house is in order in regard to harassment in the workplace, adding that this kind of item was about two decades late.
“Should anyone in your future want to shake your hand over one of our citizens being honored as TIME’s person of the year, I hope you will stand tall, I hope you will square your shoulders, I hope you will look them right in the eye and tell them you voted ‘no’ because that is the fact,” said Nicholson. “This is not progressive, progressive means that you lead, you don’t wait for the hashtags to pile in.”
Price took exception to the comments and the portrait being painted by members of the public both at the meeting and online that the five members of the council were somehow against protecting people from sexual assault.
She noted her discussions with the union representatives prior to the vote when she asked why certain elements of the law were required, namely the 100-room cutoff for requiring panic buttons and how the workload ceilings would prevent future assaults. Price said she did not get adequate answers to those questions and voted against it when a compromise could not be found during that meeting.
“I was hoping that this item wasn’t going to turn into this, and frankly, they were instigated by some of my colleagues before they went to public comment by referencing Claudia’s Law, this item today is not about Claudia’s Law,” Price said. “And at the end of the day, it is not okay for any of our colleagues, one in particular, to be taking the heat, that my colleagues who voted in favor of Claudia’s Law know what his [Austin’s] intent was not about.”
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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