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Guest Opinion | Peter Dreier and Mark Maier: The Pasadena City Council Should Require Hotels To Be Responsible Employers

Published on Monday, June 29, 2020 | 4:59 am

“We have made the difficult decision to permanently separate with many of our colleagues at The Langham. . . Your employment at the Hotel ends effective May 28, 2020.”

This is part of a letter that the managers of Pasadena’s Langham Huntington Hotel recently sent to many of its employees as it begins to re-open its operations. Many other hotels in the area have sent similar letters to their workers, many of them who have worked at those hotels for decades. In our view, this shows that the Langham Hotel has failed to demonstrate loyalty to their employees, including those who had worked there for decades.

Yesenia Ortiz, a banquet server at the 383-room hotel, is one of the workers who received that letter.

“When the hotel told me that I was being let go, I was devastated,” she said. “I understand it will take time for guests to return but it is wrong for them to take advantage of this pandemic to fire us. I have 3 children and 1 grandchild and my job at the Langham is my primary means of supporting them. Now without a job to go back to and unemployment running out, I’m scrambling to find a new apartment where I might still be able to make the rent.”

The Langham Hospitality Group is a global hotel company with more than 30 properties located in major cities. It is owned by Great Eagle Holdings, a Hong Kong-based real estate company valued at $3.4 billion, with $1.3 billion in annual sales and $741 million in annual profits, according to Forbes magazine.

These permanently discharged workers, their families and their homes are part of the foundation of Pasadena’s economy and part of the social fabric of our community. Pasadena has an obligation to its residents and to the labor force that sustains the city to ensure that these workers get their jobs back when the Langham’s rooms begin to fill up again.

Unfortunately, the Langham is only one of many hotels in Los Angeles that have abruptly fired their employees and told them not to expect their jobs back.

To protect workers like Ms. Ortiz, a number of area cities – including Glendale, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Long Beach – as well as Los Angeles County – have already passed legislation to set fair rules by which hotels will rehire workers when they start to fill their positions. The California State Assembly passed a similar law, which is now being debated in the State Senate. Other states and cities, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Baltimore, will soon vote on similar measures.

These laws do not require hotels to reopen on any particular schedule. Those decisions are best left to the hotel owners and managers, once public officials announce it is safe to do so. The ordinances simply oblige the hotels to rehire the workers based on seniority – the employees who have worked there the longest. Laws are designed to encourage conscientious people and businesses, and to require irresponsible people and businesses, to act responsibly.

And what is Pasadena doing? So far, the city has done nothing, but this Monday (June 29) the City Council will discuss a recall-and-retention ordinance.

To prepare itself for this discussion, the Council asked the Economic Development Department to provide a report on the pros and cons of such ordinances. Instead the staff simply copied what a few hotel managers told them, claiming “how much they value their employees” and that they “intend to safely rehire their team (sic) members” and “have no interest in replacing them with new hires.”

But, contrary to those warm and fuzzy sentiments, and based on our conversations with former Langham employees, the hotel’s letter does not give workers confidence that they will get their jobs back, even when the hotel starts re-hiring. The city staff who wrote the report would have known this had they bothered to talk to any workers.

To make matters worse, the staff report makes the absurd assertion that “ordinances imposing new hiring requirements onto Pasadena hotels may hinder the addition of future hotel investment and potential hotel tax growth.”

The staff report offered no evidence for this statement. Any expert consulted would point out that skilled and experienced workers—that’s what hotels themselves call their current employees—keep hotel rooms full and add to Pasadena’s hotel occupancy tax.

The report — prepared by Eric Duyshart, head of the Economic Development Department, and signed by City Manager Steve Mermell —could have been written by the hotel owners. It is an embarrassing document that does a disservice to the citizens of Pasadena, the City Council members, and the hotel workers.

In contrast, the Glendale city government staff provided a more substantive analysis to its City Council, which recently passed a recall-and-retention law with a unanimous vote.

City Council members have heard from at least 150 Pasadena hotel workers worried about their jobs. They are joined by many concerned Pasadena residents who want the Council to protect our workforce just as the Council did in raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In the case of adopting a rehire and retention policy, Pasadena is behind our neighboring cities that already have ordinances on the books.

Tourism is one of Pasadena’s most important industries. The city has about 3,000 hotel rooms and close to 2,000 hotel employees. They are the housekeepers, front desk staff, dishwashers, bussers, bartenders, valets, clerks, waiters and waitresses who serve the visitors who come to Pasadena for the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game, to attend conferences and other business matters, and to visit family and friends.

These workers are not asking for charity. They simply want their jobs back when the hotels reopen and need employees to keep the operations running smoothly and profitably. These laws provide these workers with some measure of job security after months – or longer – of being forced out of work through no fault of their own.

The city’s lowest-paid workers have suffered the most as a result of the current crisis. They should not also be the victims of its recovery.

We urge the Council to take the much-needed step on Monday to make certain that hotels open safely with their laid-off employees back on the job.

Peter Dreier is a professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. Mark Maier is a professor of economics at Glendale Community College.

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