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Union workers in Long Beach collect enough signatures to qualify hotel ‘panic button’ proposal for ballot

LONG BEACH CA. SEPTEMBER 15 , 2016 The Best Western Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach on September
The Best Western Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach is shown in 2016. Union workers have collected enough signatures to place on the ballot a measure requiring larger hotels to give workers a “panic button” to help prevent sexual assaults.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Union workers in Long Beach have collected enough petition signatures to place on the ballot a measure requiring hotels with more than 50 rooms to give workers a “panic button” to call for help in the event of a sexual assault.

The Long Beach city clerk’s office confirmed Tuesday that hotel workers from the union, Unite Here Local 11, have collected at least 27,462 valid signatures, or 10% of the city’s voters — the minimum needed to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

For the record:
3:00 PM, Aug. 01, 2018 A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of hotel worker Juana Melara as Merala.

The Long Beach City Council is scheduled to meet Aug. 7 to decide whether to put the measure on the ballot, adopt the measure without putting it before voters or call for a study on the measure’s effects before taking either of the other two actions.

The hotel industry in Long Beach opposes the measure, contending it would impose different rules for unionized and non-unionized hotels.

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Jeremy Harris, who heads a hospitality committee at the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the measure’s fine print would impose some safety measures on non-unionized hotels but let unionized facilities negotiate those measures.

“If it’s truly about safety, it should apply to everyone,” Harris said.

Union officials acknowledge there are some minor requirements imposed on non-unionized hotels — such as if an employee were to be sexually assaulted, the hotels would have to protect workers from retaliation for reporting the attack. However, they emphasized that the panic buttons apply to all hotels.

A similar measure was voted down by the Long Beach City Council in September, prompting hotel workers to collect 46,082 signatures from city residents to place the initiative on the ballot. The city clerk’s office needed to confirm a minimum of 27,462 of those signatures to qualify for the ballot.

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The same union collected enough signatures to qualify a similar measure for the ballot in Rancho Palos Verdes, but the City Council in that South Bay community put off a vote until Nov. 5, 2019, the next scheduled citywide vote.

“We are asking that Long Beach City Council does the right thing and listens to the voices of working women over the voices of hotel owners,” said Lorena Lopez, organizing director for Unite Here Local 11.

The union said it was motivated partly by several incidents of sexual harassment in Long Beach.

In 2016, two women who worked at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel filed a lawsuit, alleging that a supervisor sexually harassed them on several occasions. That case has since been settled.

Juana Melara, a longtime housekeeper at the Westin Long Beach, was one of several women named as Time magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year for speaking out against sexual harassment by hotel guests.

“I have chosen to speak out about the assault I experienced because I want to stop this from happening to other women,” Melara said in a statement. “The protections in this initiative will make a huge difference for the hotel industry’s most vulnerable workers.”

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Twitter: @hugomartin

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UPDATES:

9:45 p.m.: This article was updated to include a comment from the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.

This story was originally published at 3:20 a.m.


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