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Council Moves Forward on Protections For Laid-Off Hotel Workers

Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 5:01 am

Workers at Pasadena hotels who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to see the City Council approve an ordinance in the coming weeks that would mandate – among other protections — that those workers be rehired once the economic crisis passes and the hotels begin reopening and staffing up.

The council on Monday directed city staff to craft such an ordinance, with specifics yet to be formalized.

But the ordinance would include, among other points, a right-to-recall element for displaced workers, and a worker-retention clause, the latter to protect affected employees in the event of a change in control of a hotel’s management.

Such protections have already been formalized by Los Angeles County and the cities of L.A., Santa Monica and Long Beach, with ordinances of their own.

Those other ordinances, however, are wider in scope than the one the Pasadena City Council is now poised to consider. Pasadena’s would cover only hotel workers, while the other ordinances include workers at airports, commercial properties and events centers.

Managements of Pasadena hotels, which have been clobbered by the economic fallout of the pandemic, have expressed opposition to the ordinance — though they have also said they plan to rehire displaced workers once the crisis passes and they are in position to staff up again.

City Clerk Mark Jomsky said the council received 456 letters in support of such an ordinance in Pasadena ahead of Monday’s meeting.

“What we are contemplating here, I believe, is really just a fairness doctrine … and it simply says that those workers in entities that were affected, hotels, by COVID-19 … that those loyal workers just simply have an opportunity to come back to their jobs as things improve,’’ said Council Member John J. Kennedy.

“That seems to be a fair way of approaching this, even though I’m sure we will not make everyone happy.’’

The move did not even make everyone on the council happy on Monday, as it passed by just a 5-2-1 margin.

Council Members Gene Masuda and Andy Wilson voted “no,” and Council Member Margaret McAustin abstained after saying that, while she was “sympathetic” with the hotel workers, “I’m just not comfortable with us as a city government inserting ourselves between labor and management.’’

Wilson said he was “generally reticent to be adding more responsibilities to the city … I want to be very cautious about expanding our scope into areas that I’m not sure we’ll be able to follow through on.’’

Masuda questioned why hotel owners were being “singled out” – adding, “Why are we forcing the hotels to hire these (employees) back? That to me is a very important question, being an at-will state, and we’re forcing the hotel owners to do this.’’

“That is where I’m kind of having a difficult problem – with forcing hotels to bring their employees back and having no choice, especially when they’re saying (they are) planning to bring them back, and I believe them,’’ Masuda added.

Wilson, too, said he had an issue with “cherry picking one part of the economy,” and asked that staff consider that aspect as it analyzes the issue and crafts an ordinance.

According to a city staff report, “On May 4 … the City Council reviewed a brief information report on hospitality worker protections advocated by Unite Here, Local 11. At that time, the item was referred to the Economic Development and Technology (EDTECH) Committee. …

“Focusing more on the L.A. County and L.A. City ordinances, the committee discussed a narrow application in Pasadena; applying solely to hotels. Following the discussion, the committee voted to return to the full City Council for a discussion as to whether to establish a hotel-specific worker retention ordinance.’’

That’s how the matter landed on Monday’s council agenda.

Besides Kennedy, votes in favor of an ordinance came from Mayor Terry Tornek, Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton and Council Members Steve Madison and Victor Gordo.

Madison gave an especially impassioned defense of the plan.

“This council has a lot to be proud of, of what we’ve done in the face of this pandemic,’’ he said – pointing to “several hundred thousand dollars, if not a million by now, for meals for the community, a million dollars or more depending on matching funds for small businesses, just grants that we’re giving, protection for renters. …

“But this is an important piece, too. … I can’t remember if it was Gandhi or Humphrey or somebody else that said, society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. And that’s the case here.’’

Madison added: “The hotels say, ‘Why us? Why are you targeting this group of employees?’ Because they’re a discreet group of extremely hard-working, low-income employees who are among the most vulnerable – we’re talking about housekeepers, custodians, groundskeepers and wait staff and the like.’’

Madison also pointed out that many of the displaced workers are people of color.

“At a time when we’re engaged in a lot of introspection about how we treat people of color in our society … one of the best things that we can do is get hard-working people working and try to protect them in their position if we can. And this is a way to do that,’’ he said.

“The City of L.A., the County of L.A., the City of Santa Monica have all adopted this ordinance. How can we not do the same and call ourselves the progressive leader that we all know that we are?’’

Tornek said he supported the move “with some trepidation,” but added that “these are extraordinary times” and that an ordinance of this kind is a way of “holding them (hotel owners) to their public expressions.”

Gordo said hotels have benefited greatly from the city’s investments in making Pasadena an attractive destination for visitors – and that a worker-protection ordinance would “level the playing field.”

“This is a small gesture,” Gordo said.

Under the right-of-recall clauses of the L.A. County and L.A. City ordinances, “Priorities must be given to laid-off workers, who have five business days to accept or deny an offer of employment,’’ according to a city staff report.

Under the worker retention/right of retention elements of those other ordinances, “Upon a ‘change in control,’ incumbent business employers must post a notice and provide a preferential hiring list of workers to new owner.’’

The L.A. County and L.A. City ordinances do not contain sunset clauses, though the Pasadena city staff report indicated the scope of those ordinances would likely be limited by “language linked to COVID-19 recovery.’’

Pasadena’s, meanwhile, is likely to have a very specific sunset date – a point that Hampton insisted upon before he agreed to vote in favor of Monday’s move.

“I do think that a time frame … would be helpful,’’ Hampton said. “There should be a sunset date on when this is over.’’

Hampton’s suggestion was for the Pasadena ordinance to sunset 12 months after the city lifts its state of emergency prompted by the COVID crisis.

The council next meets on July 13. That would be the earliest date on which any ordinance could be considered.

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