The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance last month that gives safety protections to hotel housekeeping employees. It also raises the minimum wage at additional hotels in the city.
But Mark Davis, chief executive of Sun Hill Properties Inc., owner of the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City hotel, said the difficulty in hiring employees was a bigger stressor than the cost of new regulations.
In spite of the market’s above-market wages and energetic recruiting efforts, there are just not enough workers in the city, Davis said.
“We are short at the front desk, we are short in food and beverage, we are short in housekeeping for those clients that want to visit L.A.,” Davis added.
Stuart Waldman, president of Van Nuys business advocacy group Valley Industry & Commerce Association, was blunter in his assessment of the law.
“This is a bad measure that hurts the environment, hurts the employees, hurts the city of L.A and hurts tourism,” he said.
By a vote of 10-2, the council passed the Workplace Security, Workload, Wage and Retention Measures for Hotel Workers on June 28. Councilmembers Paul Krekorian and John Lee voted against the measure.
Brought before the council thanks to 100,000 signatures on a petition, the ordinance, which was signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti on July 7, requires hotels to supply their workers with personal security “panic button” devices. Additionally, hotels with 60 rooms or more must employee a full-time security guard.
Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, said hotel workers would see a reduction in hours because of the mandates limiting the square footage an employee is allowed to clean each day.
“The strident and unscientific work rules for square-footage limit our employees, who often count on extra hours for extra income,” he said.
The downtown trade organization for hoteliers and their service and supplier partners advocated for putting the measure before voters as a ballot proposition, which the council had the option to do.
In addition, Hillan said, an economic analysis of how the changes would affect the city’s transient occupancy tax was not carried out.
In addition to the new safety protocols, hotels with more than 45 rooms will have to pay wage premiums if workers put in extra hours. Hotel operators will also have to get an employee’s written consent if requested to work more than 10 hours in a day. Exemptions will be granted to hotels demonstrating economic hardship.
The ordinance also extends the current minimum wage amount to hotels with 60 or more rooms from hotels with 150 rooms or more. The minimum wage increased to $16.04 from $15 in Los Angeles on July 1.
Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality, a Newport Beach-based brokerage firm that specializes in the sale of hotels, called the ordinance a good idea and said he didn’t think any hotel owner or operator would oppose it.
“Anything you can do to protect your workers is definitely a very good thing to have,” Reay said.
Hillan said the hotel association’s membership was supportive of the safety aspects of the ordinance, and that most of its members already have panic buttons for the housekeeping staff.
But while the Hilton will comply with the ordinance, Davis said that many of the housekeeping staff decided to opt out of having to carry the safety devices, finding them too bulky to wear on their uniform or carry in their cart.
“They sign a release that says, ‘Thank you, but no thank you, we don’t need them, don’t require them,’” he said.
“It sounds simple, and it sounds like a good thing, but if nobody wants to use them it is not actually solving any problems,” Waldman added.
The other issue with new regulations, Reay said, is cost.
Hotels are just coming out of the downturn from the Covid-19 pandemic, have had a hard time replacing employees and are facing inflation pressures, which are pushing wages up.
“A lot of hotels are fighting higher costs,” he said.
One of the requirements of the ordinance is that any hotel of 60 rooms or more must have a full-time security guard, “which in principle is not a bad idea,” Reay said.
“From an added-cost standpoint from the hotel, it’s if they are able to pass that cost on in terms of hotel room rates,” he added, stating that hotels would look to pass the expense on to travelers.
If the hotel has fewer than 60 rooms the city will allow a supervisor or manager to act in the capacity of a security guard.
Sarah Wiltfong, director of advocacy and policy for the Los Angeles County Business Federation, or BizFed, said the group was disappointed by the council’s “shortsighted” outcome.
“This ordinance does little to protect hotel workers and instead will limit their ability to receive overtime pay, inhibit hotel green programs when LA City is pushing for more sustainability, and significantly increase hotel costs that will discourage tourism and lower the city’s tax revenue as we have seen in other jurisdictions,” Wiltfong wrote in an email to the Business Journal.
BizFed always encourages its elected officials to conduct an economic assessment before imposing sweeping measures, particularly on an industry still reeling from the pandemic, she added.
“It’s unfortunate they did not do so in this case,” Wiltfong wrote.
The city council’s action was nothing new for cities in the region. Long Beach, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Glendale have all passed similar laws.
Santa Monica was first, passing its ordinance, dubbed a “Housekeeper Bill of Rights,” in August 2019.
As with the Los Angeles ordinance, the Santa Monica law requires panic buttons for housekeeping staff and a limit based on square footage of how much space employees can clean each day.
“If a Room Attendant is assigned work over the square footage cap during their workday, an employer must compensate them at twice their regular rate of pay for all hours worked – not just those hours worked on space beyond the square footage cap,” according to the ordinance.
The West Hollywood ordinance was passed in August of last year by a vote of 4-1. It, too, requires panic buttons for cleaning staff and a limit based on square footage of the amount of space a worker can clean on a daily basis.
But the Los Angeles ordinance does go further by requiring mandatory daily cleaning of rooms and linens.
The mandate to clean rooms daily comes at a time when city residents are being asked to reduce their water consumption by as much as 35%, said the hotel association’s Hillan.
“With towels and sheets being cleaned every day, there is an increase in water consumption,” he said.
While a guest can opt out of having their room cleaned daily, it is an arduous task to do so and not nearly as simple as it had been, because hotels can no longer suggest it, Hillan added.
“We have to be careful about who leads that conversation,” he continued. “Before the ordinance we were allowed to just ask, ‘Hey, in the interest of the environment if you are staying over (more than one night) let us know if you prefer not to have your towels and sheets cleaned.’”
Still, Atlas Hospitality’s Reay was not surprised that the council passed the law.
“It is unfortunate that we need to have protections like this, but again, anything you can do to increase security for your employees is always interesting,” Reay said.
But Davis and VICA’s Waldman contend that what really drove the passage of the law was the ability of hotel workers to unionize.
Hotels that allow unions would not be subject to the ordinance, both Waldman and Davis said.
“Their interpreting of the intent of those pushing for the bill versus the reality of what it will do to those they want to help, it is unfortunate that that’s the case,” Davis said.
“I hate to be a cynic but it’s pretty clear this measure has nothing to do with protecting employees and everything to do with increasing union membership,” Waldman added.