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Guest Opinion | When Pasadena Hotels Reopen, They Should Rehire Existing Employees

Published on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 | 12:28 pm

Hotel workers are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the current public health crisis erupted, hotel workers had a hard time making ends meet. But now – with most hotels virtually empty – many find themselves not only out of work but also without health insurance and without adequate income to pay the rent and put food on their tables for their families.

Many of these workers invested years working in the hospitality industry, which is concentrated in a few areas, like Pasadena, with large numbers of hotels. We all hope that the industry will recover once the number and pace of people with the virus slows down and cities are able to encourage businesses to re-open and people to get back to work.

But will hardworking hotel workers share in that recovery? To make sure they do, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Los Angeles County recently adopted laws to require hotels to attempt to rehire laid off workers before offering open positions to new employees. Santa Monica has had a similar law on its books for close to twenty years following 9/11.

Glendale is about to adopt a similar policy.  “Glendale recognizes that hotel workers who work and/or live here are an important part of our local economy and our community,” said Ara Najarian, a Glendale City Council member. “We need this law to ensure fairness and equity as businesses recover from the virus.” Paula Devine, another Glendale City Council member, says she expects the council to “adopt a policy similar to Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Long Beach, and Los Angeles County to assure hotel workers’ safety and protection at work.”

The Pasadena City Council is considering doing the same thing. Its Economic Development and Technology Committee will discuss, and perhaps vote on, the proposal at its meeting tonight (Thursday).

These laws do not require hotels to reopen on any 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 give workers their jobs back, based on seniority – the employees who have worked there the longest.

You might be asking yourself: Wouldn’t it be smart for these employers to rehire the workers who have worked there before, know how each hotel operates so they don’t have to be trained from scratch, and have demonstrated their loyalty to the hotel companies? Yes, it would be smart, and it is likely that most hotels will follow this commonsense approach once they are ready to re-open.

But we already know some hotels are not following these guidelines. In fact, some hotels in Los Angeles have already told long-time employees they can apply for their old jobs back, but that they won’t guarantee they will be rehired. Some unscrupulous hotels see this COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to reduce labor costs by replacing experienced employees with inexperienced workers at a much lower hourly wage and without the same benefits. Some have worked for the same hotel over 30 years, but this investment of their lives left them with nothing: no ongoing health insurance and no severance.

As one long-time hotel worker explained: “People gave their lives to this hotel and they were left with nothing — just a generic email thanking them for their service.” Another worker let go after nearly 23 years, said: “I feel like an insect that has been kicked out of the house.”

This is no different than when companies that manufacture medical masks jack up prices to take advantage of the current crisis. In both cases, they put profits over people.

Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Los Angeles County (which covers hotels in unincorporated areas) adopted their “worker retention and right of recall” laws as a safety net for hotel workers whose unscrupulous employers want to exploit this crisis by neglecting its own employees. Pasadena should follow their example.

Tourism is one of Pasadena’s most important industries. The city has about 3,000 hotel rooms and close to 2,000 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 Pasadena City Council should also keep its promise. Some local businesspeople are also trying to use the pandemic to pressure the Pasadena City Council to do what they couldn’t accomplish before – renege on its promise to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour on July 1 – the schedule it agreed to when it passed the law in 2016.

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.

At times like this, all of us need to pull together to pursue the good of our community — owners, managers, customers, and workers. This is why we urge Pasadena to pass a worker recall and retention law to make sure workers in the hospitality industry are rehired when businesses reopen, and workers can keep their jobs, even if the ownership of those hotels change hands.

This is the right and moral thing to do. Workers have helped Pasadena develop a worldwide reputation as a destination for tourists. Now is the time to show this reputation is based on justice and fairness for all.

Balmore Cuadra has worked as a housekeeper at the Hilton Pasadena Hotel for five years and is a member of UNITE HERE. Peter Dreier is chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and a founding member of Pasadenans Organizing for Progress (POP). Rev. Michael Kinman is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. They all live in Pasadena.

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