Operators of former Holiday Inn, now a homeless housing complex, did not hire back workers, employees say

Current and former workers at a transitional housing complex near Downtown say their employer violated COVID-19 safety rules, and hasn’t hired back workers in accordance with a city law passed in the wake of the pandemic.

The union representing the workers, Unite Here Local 11, staged a protest this week in front of what was a Holiday Inn until  the county purchased the site for just over $20 million through the state’s Project Homekey to provide housing for homeless individuals.

But workers say the complex’s new operators, Holliday’s Helping Hands and Advanced Nursing Services, violated the city’s hotel worker retention ordinance by failing to rehire employees

“The new workers are doing the same job we were doing,” said Nidia Cardona, one of the housekeepers who had been furloughed as a result of the pandemic. She said she found out the hotel had been sold to the county through media reports.

Holliday’s Helping Hands Public Relations Director Cindy Zackney said the company believes the worker retention ordinance did not apply to the former Holiday Inn property, since it was no longer operating as a hotel. She said she is working with the company’s legal team to direct its response.

A spokesperson for County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes Long Beach, said her office has been in conversations with the workers and the union.

“I have heard their concerns and I am committed to working toward a resolution that supports as many of these workers as possible,” Hahn said in a written statement.

In a separate complaint, filed with the state’s occupational safety program, Cal/OSHA, on March 11, workers who had been rehired alleged that the site’s operator was not following coronavirus safety protocols, such as failing to adequately screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms and not enforcing the wearing of face masks among employees.

Maria Isabel Borja, one of the hotel workers cited in the complaint, said conditions had improved to some extent since the complaint was filed, but that workers still had to remind other employees to follow safety guidelines, such as not removing their masks while speaking.

“I don’t feel comfortable,” Borja said in Spanish.

Still, she continues to work at the property to support her family, she said.

“With the pandemic, it’s difficult to find another job,” she added. “So I keep working, no matter the conditions.”

In a written statement, Zackney said the company was conducting an internal investigation on the matter.

“We are devoted to our employees and their safety, and we take these concerns very seriously,” Zackney said in the statement.

The county purchased the former hotel, 1133 Atlantic Ave., for $20.5 million, using funds provided through the state’s Homekey initiative. It was initially used as a quarantine site, it was converted into transitional housing for homeless people in mid-February.

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Alena Maschke writes about all things business and beyond for the Long Beach Business Journal/Long Beach Post. Born and raised in Germany, she first fell in love with California during an exchange year at UCLA. After receiving her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2017, she returned to the Golden State with an appetite for great stories, pupusas and the occasional Michelada.