L.A. City Council bypasses ballot, approves measure to reduce workload for hotel housekeepers
Most hotels in the city of Los Angeles will be required to limit the daily workload of housekeepers, offer overtime pay under certain circumstances, provide “panic buttons” to protect their workers from sexual harassment and do away with policies that automatically forgo daily cleaning, under a measure approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.
Unite Here Local 11, a union representing Southern California hotel workers, filed more than 110,000 signatures on a petition to put the measure on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot. Instead, the council voted 10 to 3 to bypass the ballot process and adopt the measure outright. A second, mostly procedural vote is scheduled for June 28. The measure takes effect about 30 days later.
The measure comes as Los Angeles tourism leaders hope to see a rebound in the region’s tourism industry, which was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, Los Angeles County hosted 50 million international and domestic visitors, who spent $22 billion, according L.A. tourism officials. But in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, the number of visitors dropped to 27.7 million, with tourism spending plunging to $10 billion. Tourism experts estimate the county hosted about 40 million visitors in 2021.
In addition to the hotel workers measure, the council also approved increasing the minimum wage for some healthcare workers to $25 an hour. A group of unions had also collected enough signatures for this measure to be on the ballot this fall.
The hotel housekeepers measure was opposed by business and hospitality trade groups, which told the council Tuesday that the law would lead to higher labor costs, higher room rates and a drop in tourists.
Heather Rozman, executive director of the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, which opposed the measure, also suggested that by reintroducing daily room cleaning the measure would force hotels to use more water in a time of “unprecedented drought.” At the start of the pandemic, many hotels eliminated daily room cleaning, saying the move reduced the risk of spreading COVID-19 between hotel workers and guests.
“Mandatory daily room cleaning would increase the use of water, as well as electricity and gas in perpetuity,” she said.
Unite Here Local 11 had also backed similar ballot measures that were adopted in Long Beach, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Glendale but were rejected by voters in Rancho Palos Verdes.
The council heard testimony from several of the housekeepers who packed the council chambers, spoke out in favor of the measure and chanted, “Si, se puede” (Yes, we can) during the meeting.
The measure was championed by City Councilman Kevin de Leon, who described hotel workers as “the backbone of our economy.”
“They shouldn’t have to wait until November” for the measure to be adopted, he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”
Council members who opposed the measure said it was premature to adopt it without an economic analysis of its effects.
“This is not how this body makes policy,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said.
The measure is intended to reduce the workload for hotel housekeepers, who earn an hourly wage of less than $18 in Los Angeles and suffer some of the highest injury rates among service industry workers.
The workload of housekeepers has increased, according to union leaders, because most hotels have not returned to full staffing since the height of the pandemic, and the end of daily room cleaning means short-staffed housekeepers must clean several days’ worth of trash, grime and used towels. Unite Here leaders say the elimination of daily cleaning enables hotels to justify hiring fewer housekeepers and demand more from those workers who remain.
In January, The Times followed a day in the life of a hotel housekeeper, who kept a diary that described grueling working conditions during the pandemic.
Under the new measure, hotels are not allowed to automatically forgo daily cleaning, but hotel guests can request to opt out of daily room cleaning.
Also, hotels with at least 45 guest rooms will be required to limit the number of rooms — based on the total square footage — that a housekeeper must clean in an eight-hour workday. The limits on square footage will be determined by the size of the hotel, the types of rooms and whether the housekeeper has to clean rooms on different floors, among other factors.
The measure also prohibits hotels from requiring housekeepers to work more than 10 hours in one shift without their written consent. In addition, a previous minimum wage ordinance that applied to hotels with 150 or more rooms will be expanded to hotels with 60 or more rooms. The minimum wage is now $17.64 an hour.
Hotels must also supply housekeepers with panic buttons, devices they can use to summon help in case of a sexual harassment or attack.
Under pressure from unions and workers, the nation’s largest hotels and the country’s hotel trade group voluntarily adopted a policy in 2018 to offer workers panic buttons to address such safety concerns.
The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., based in the San Fernando Valley, released a statement opposing the housekeeping measure, saying it would make operating a hotel more expensive.
“The reality here is that the Hotel Workers Initiative will cripple hotels that fought to remain open through the pandemic,” Stuart Waldman, the group’s president, said in a statement. “The Initiative will force hotels to hire more staff and reduce hours for current employees. Labor is expensive. Some hotels can’t afford to implement the Initiative.”