City leaders to consider slew of actions to bolster economy

The Long Beach City Council will review a slew of new actions Tuesday night to bolster the local economy as the COVID-19 pandemic leaves millions across the country unemployed.

Details of the direction the council might go—from requiring sick pay to ordering businesses to rehire laid-off workers when the economy improves—were revealed in a lengthy memo added to the supplemental agenda Friday afternoon for the council’s April 14 meeting.

The council is not expected to take any action Tuesday, but rather discuss options.

In the memo, Long Beach Director of Economic Development John Keisler outlined a menu of options to insulate workers from economic harm, help local businesses weather forced closures and what funding mechanisms the city could use to cover the costs.

The topics covered in the memo range from small business loans to what resources are available to those who have been forced to self-quarantine. A number of the items deal with worker protections, including the possible implementation of a worker retention program, a right-to-rehire ordinance and the possibility of requiring some businesses to offer paid sick leave if workers are impacted by COVID-19.

Keisler said the council could direct the city attorney’s office to return at some point with emergency ordinances that could be retroactive.

The city attorney’s office confirmed that it had yet to draw up any ordinance in advance of the meeting.

A number of cities in the region, including Los Angeles, have already passed similar measures. Last week, L.A. adopted a measure that requires workers who become ill, have to care for a family member with or without COVID-19—childcare, elder person required to stay home, forced to or asked to self-isolate due to exposure—to receive 100% of their pay for two weeks.

The Long Beach ordinance could require similar supplemental paid sick leave, but the memo did not make any recommendations and stated the ultimate direction is up to the council.

Under the recently passed federal stimulus package, called the CARES Act, small businesses can apply for loans of up to $10 million to help sustain their workforce. But the memo noted that two-thirds of small businesses across the country are not likely to receive funding because of the limited pool of money—$349 billion.

Long Beach’s ordinance could target those left out of the CARES Act, including businesses with 500 or more employees.

Keisler said there are a few large employers in the city that could be impacted but that it would not impact franchise owners, whose parent companies employ far more than that, unless they have 500 or more employees in the city.

Another measure outlined in the memo would require businesses to offer positions back to those who were laid off because of COVID-19.

Councilman Rex Richardson, who co-authored a motion asking for the memo, said in an interview that it would come down to whether the workers would still be employed had it not been for COVID-19.

Richardson said that as tourism and the economy rebounds, it’s only right that the workers that were in place before the shutdown get the opportunity to return to their place of work. The move would help the Long Beach economy, and its residents—many of whom worked in the service industry.

“Should our neighbors be able to go back to work? I think we would be hard pressed to say ‘no,’” he said.

The City of Los Angeles has stopped short of passing an ordinance requiring a right to rehire, but still could consider it in the future. The L.A. council noted last week that the matter wasn’t urgent and could be voted on in the future.

Other issues regarding requirements of businesses to provide essential workers with personal protective equipment will also be discussed.

Mike Murchison, a hospitality industry consultant, said he saw the memo for the first time around noon Friday.

“There’s some serious, significant subject matter in there that is not easy to understand the impact,” Murchison said. “The underlying problem to me is that the hotels weren’t notified.”

He said language involving the right to rehire was too vague and could potentially open hotel operators to lawsuits. He said that based on the current language, employees laid off for causes other than COVID-19 could sue hotels if they are not rehired. Those lawsuits would come at a difficult time for operators, as they are reopening after losing millions of dollars, he said.

When hotels do begin reopening, it will not be at full capacity; smaller staffs will likely come aboard as the operators slowly ramp up business, Murchison said. If the language of a future ordinance specified employees laid off as a direct result of COVID-19, Murchison said he would be less concerned.

The council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 14. The meeting can be streamed here.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.