After hours of discussion and public comment, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to add a measure on the November ballot that would require Long Beach hotels to provide panic buttons for housekeepers to protect them against sexual assault.
Voters will now decide on the controversial initiative, called “Stand with Women Against Abuse,” which would mandate that all city hotels with 50 rooms or more provide employees with the buttons free of charge as well as protections against retaliation for reporting assaults.
While the council was initially divided on how to proceed, it vowed to move ahead after voting last year 5-4 against implementing a similar initiative.
The council weighed a few options before ultimately deciding to send the question to voters. Council members Jeannine Pearce, Lena Gonzalez, Roberto Uranga and Rex Richardson were initially in favor of adopting the initiative as city ordinance, while others wanted an economic impact study first.
“We absolutely should put people over profits,” Gonzalez said.
“The city has to move forward,” Pearce said.
Mayor Robert Garcia said he opposed any study that would delay adding the measure to the November ballot, stating that the law would provide more support for local unions.
“This law would encourage more representation for the workforce and I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “Anytime you can have more workers represented that’s positive.”
Supporters last month submitted 47,000 signatures, more than enough required for a ballot measure.
There was heated debates on both sides, with supporters saying that the measure is necessary to protect women, while opponents argued that the measure would put an unnecessary economic burden on hotels.
“The hotel industry is already heavily regulated,” said John Howard, a member of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. “This initiative would cause major damage to an industry that many in our city rely on.”
The Long Beach Hospitality Alliance, made up of the city’s largest hotels, has said that local hotels are safe and that only two assaults have been reported by hotel staff in recent years—one incident was sexual battery of a female employee and the other was battery of a male security guard.
Linda Fox, president of the Long Beach affiliate of the National Council of Jewish Women, said one assault is one too many. The numbers are vastly unreported because women are afraid to speak out, she added.
“Not one sexual assault, not one physical collapse is worth the economic cost,” she said.
Long Beach activist and hotel housekeeper Juana Melara, who was among the women included in Time Magazine’s annual Person of the Year article, said Long Beach should be on the right side of history.
“I decided to speak up because very few people understand what housekeepers go through,” she said. “In 23 years working, more than a few times I’ve been asked for sexual favors and men have exposed themselves. We need to feel safe.”
Victor Sanchez, director of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and Healthy Community, said workers inspired by the #metoo movement were able to gather 46,000 signatures, showing the mass support in the community.
“We did work, we sweat it out,” he said.
Several hotel owners and representatives said they care about employee safety but urged the council to ask for an economic impact report.
Cory Alder, representing Homewood Suits by Hilton near the Long Beach Airport, said the measure should expand to all hotels, but the city should first do an economic impact report so voters can have more information for the ballot in 2020.
“We care deeply about out employees; they work their tails off and we respect them,” he said. “But we can come up with a better solution. We shouldn’t rush this. 2020 is OK.”
Mike Murchinson, a lobbyist representing local hotels, also pushed for an economic impact study, noting that the hospitality industry in a previous analysis determined that the measure could cost local hotels $3.5 million annually.
Last week, UNITE HERE Local 11, a labor union representing more 30,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona, said it had reached a tentative agreement with two Long Beach hotels—Hyatt Pike and Hyatt Regency—to provide workers with panic buttons, along with increases to wages, benefits, and retirement plans.
UNITE HERE said it currently has panic button contracts in New York, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas, and has supported ordinances that have been enacted in Seattle and Chicago.
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