Long Beach’s hospitality industry is having its own #metoo movement, but a divided City Council can’t seem to agree on how best to address the issue.
In a time of heightened awareness over sexual assault, hotel housekeepers are speaking out about the dangers they face while cleaning rooms. The outcry has prompted campaigns for panic buttons that would silently call hotel security or police if a worker is harassed.
Seattle, New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago all require panic buttons, while other cities like Long Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes will let voters decide in November.
It’s been a rocky effort in Long Beach.
The city is considering passing an ordinance requiring panic buttons for workers at all hotels and motels. But some City Council members are concerned that the ordinance will confuse people in November when they vote on a similar effort called Measure WW.
The big difference?
The ordinance would be mandatory for all hotels and motels, while Measure WW is for hotels with 50 rooms or more.
Another big difference concerns unions.
In addition to requiring panic buttons, Measure WW imposes limits on overtime and the amount of square footage housekeepers are required to clean. The workloads and overtime provisions can be waived under a collective bargaining agreement.
That’s why 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price said she was part of the 5-4 council majority that shot down a similar measure last year called Claudia’s Law.
“If this is really a law about public safety I’m not seeing the connection between square footage and panic buttons,” she said. “To me that seemed very politically motivated.”
Last week, this issue heated up again in the regular council meeting when Price along with four other council members proposed the panic button ordinance. The issue was brought for consideration around 1 a.m., after the council was done poring over the city budget.
The proposal didn’t sit well with the four council members who voted in favor of Claudia’s Law last year and have been pushing for Measure WW.
9th District Councilman Rex Richardson called the move “politically motivated,” while 7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga said it “didn’t pass the smell test.”
In a rare move, Uranga, Richardson, Jeannine Pearce and Lena Gonzalez declined to vote and walked out in protest. The initiative passed 5-0 with Councilmembers Price, Stacy Mungo, Dee Andrews, Al Austin and Daryl Supernaw all voting in favor.
In an interview, Pearce, who heads the 2nd District, said the city should take more time to study the economic impact on smaller hotels. She said she and her fellow council members who walked out were frustrated and confused over the timing.
“This is an issue we have been trying to lead on for years,” she said. “We’ve had more opportunities than I’ve ever seen a council have to tackle this issue and it’s been really unfortunate that this is the one where we’ve had the most politics.”
Price, who works as an Orange County prosecutor, said she drafted the original version of the ordinance last year after she voted against Claudia’s Law.
She said she didn’t want the perception that the five members who voted against the measure were against panic buttons and hotel worker safety.
“We need to address the safety for housekeepers at all hotels, including the motels and smaller hotels,” she said. “Why would we choose to ignore them if there is a public safety concern?”
The city attorney will draft the ordinance and is expected to return it to the city council for final approval next month. The city will vote on Measure WW on Nov. 6.
Many hotels, meanwhile, are already taking action. Last week, more than a dozen major hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Wyndham, said they will provide personal panic buttons by 2020.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Councilman Roberto Uranga represents the 7th Council District.
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