Long Beach voters say yes to panic buttons for hotel workers

Measure WW, a hotly contested ballot measure that would require large hotels to provide panic buttons to workers and place limits on the amount of space that can be cleaned per shift, was passed Tuesday.

With mail-in ballots counted and 219 out of 219 precincts reporting, the measure had 62 percent of the vote in favor, and 38 percent against.

Supporters closely following the election updates Tuesday at a watch party at Roxanne’s bar in Cal Heights celebrated throughout the night.

“Thanks to the city, the community,” said Juana Melara, a local hotel worker who has been at the forefront of the fight for Measure WW. “People have spoken and now WW is a reality. We are finally going to be respected and safe.”

Melara was among dozens recognized as a “silence breaker” last year as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. She spoke about incidents where guests exposed themselves and propositioned her while she tried to clean their rooms.

“For us, at its core, it’s really about dignity on the job, especially the overwhelmingly majority women of color who work in the hospitality industry,” said Victor Sanchez, director for the Long Beach Coalition For Good Jobs and Healthy Communities. “It’s an economic equity issue. It’s a dignity and respect issue on the job, and that’s why it’s so important for us.”

The coalition was joined in the effort by the labor union UNITE HERE Local 11 and Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce was also on hand to celebrate. She was an early supporter of the measure and its former iterations both on the council and prior to that when she worked as a labor organizer.

The measure may have to be reconciled with a competing ordinance that is scheduled to come back for a second reading with a final approval by the City Council expected in December. That ordinance requires panic buttons for all hotels and motels in the city but does not include the labor provisions and union exemptions in WW.

An economic impact report released by the city last month said Measure WW could cost Long Beach millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Pete Hillan, spokesman for the Long Beach Hospitality Alliance, said the measure is not good for the city or hotel workers.

“Unfortunately, what that means is that we have a divided city,” Hillan said, referring to what he says will be more than half of hotel employees left unprotected under Measure WW.

Hillan said the mandates under Measure WW would create some of the most restrictive work requirements in the nation.

The ordinance has split the City Council almost in half, with four members twice refusing to vote on the issue, instead walking out during two of the ordinance’s readings in September and October.

The controversy between the measure and the ordinance escalated when a political action committee of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce sent out political mailers attacking council members Rex Richardson, Roberto Uranga, Lena Gonzalez and Jeannine Pearce.

The pieces criticized the four for not doing their duty and voting on the ordinance.

The measure was introduced earlier this year after the council failed to pass a similar ordinance last year called Claudia’s Law, named after a former worker at the Renaissance Hotel who fell into a coma after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage after working overtime.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.
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