Hotel worker panic button measure would cost city millions in lost revenue, report finds

A controversial ballot measure that would require hotels to provide panic buttons for housekeepers and impose limits on workloads could cost Long Beach millions of dollars in lost revenue, according to a city report.

Measure WW, which goes before voters on Nov. 6, would mandate that all hotels with 50 rooms or more provide panic buttons for housekeepers to protect them against sexual assault. The measure also would impose limits on overtime and the amount of square footage housekeepers are required to clean.

Proponents say the measure protects vulnerable workers, while opponents say the workload provisions would be a burden on the city’s hotel industry.

Now, an independent city report on the fiscal impact of Measure WW appears to echo opponents’ concerns.

Released on Friday, the 19-page report from BAE Urban Economics analyzed the impact to hotels and city revenue and compared Long Beach to Seattle, Chicago, Sacramento and Miami, where similar measure are already in place.

Overall, the report found that most hotels could absorb the cost of supplying panic buttons, but the measure’s workload provisions could be a major hit to the industry.

Under Measure WW, housekeepers can’t clean more than 4,000 square feet of space in an eight-hour day. The report found that the 4,000-square-foot cap would limit workers to cleaning about 10 rooms a day, whereas they now clean about 15 rooms a day—a change that would add significant operating costs.

Out of the five cities, Long Beach’s measure was the most restrictive, followed by Seattle, which has a 5,000-square-foot cap.

While the report did not have an overall estimate of the fiscal impact, it found that higher operating costs could jeopardize future hotel projects, costing the city about $8 million a year in Transient Occupancy Tax revenue.

The report also found that:

  • At least 11 hotels, comprising more than 3,200 rooms (52 percent of all hotel rooms in the city) already have panic buttons for housekeepers.
  • Based on market conditions, hotel operators might be not be able to raise room rates to offset increased costs, which would reduce annual income.
  • The measure could impact future hotel sales due to lower capitalized value, which would affect property tax.
  • Long Beach’s hospitality industry could be impacted if hotels raise their room rates.

Measure WW has been a hot button for the City Council, which last year shot down a similar measure.

This month, the council will consider passing an ordinance that would require panic buttons for housekeepers in all hotels.

While Measure WW only applies to hotels with 50 rooms or more, the city ordinance would apply to all hotels and motels. Measure WW also includes exemptions for unionized hotels, while the city ordinance does not.

John Howard, chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said the report shows the true costs to hotels.

“Measure WW not only fails to protect all workers, but it will be money out of the pockets of those same workers it doesn’t protect,” he said in a statement.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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