New Santa Monica Hotel Law to Protect Housekeepers - a Help or Hindrance?

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By David DeMoss

On August 27th, 2019, Santa Monica’s City Council voted unanimously to enact a local law that will protect hotel housekeepers from sexual harassment and inhumane workloads. The ordinance will require hotels to equip housekeepers with personal safety devices that they can use to alert security if they experience any sexual harassment or assault. In addition, housekeepers will only be allowed to clean up to 4,000 square feet during an 8-hour shift (depending on hotel size), and will receive 2x their regular rate of pay for any exceeded square footage cleaned. Considering that a 2015 study shows that average hotel room at about 330 square feet (Some newer hotels have rooms as small as 170 square feet), that would cap the daily cleaning at 10-12 rooms per day.  While employees should be protected from harm and being overworked, this new law could cut into hotel profits if the hotel is required to pay double to housekeepers anytime they exceed the square footage. From the employee standpoint, it could also force hotels to send housekeepers home early, which would cut into their pay and benefits. More from Madeleine Pauker, below.

Housekeepers employed by Santa Monica hotels and motels will clean rooms under a new set of rules that protect them from sexual violence and burdensome workloads.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a local law that establishes safety standards and workload limits for hotel housekeepers and requires hotels to retain workers if they change hands. Originally proposed last June by hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 11, the ordinance has been controversial with local hoteliers and business owners, who support its safety provisions but say its work restrictions will cut into both wages and profits.

Santa Monica joins cities such as Long Beach, Oakland and Seattle in adopting legislation designed to regulate working conditions for hotel housekeepers.

“From the outset, we knew hotel housekeepers need and deserve protection from sexual assault and harassment, along with professional training, a humane workload and reasonable job protection,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who has vocally supported the ordinance at rallies held by Local 11.

Under the ordinance, hotels will be required to equip housekeepers with personal safety devices they can use to alert security guards if they experience sexual harassment or assault while cleaning rooms alone. Hotels must also train their employees on how to protect their own safety and identify human trafficking and sexual violence while on the job.

Housekeepers employed by hotels with more than 40 rooms will not have to clean more than 3,500 square feet during an eight-hour shift. Hotels with 40 rooms or less can require their housekeepers to clean no more than 4,000 square feet.

Employees who exceed the square footage cap will receive twice their regular rate of pay for all hours worked.

The ordinance exempts union hotels from the workload and worker retention provisions because workers at those hotels can negotiate their workloads and working conditions.

Local 11 representatives told the council Tuesday that hotels routinely force housekeepers to work overtime because they assign them more rooms than they can clean in an eight-hour shift.

With a square footage cap, they could work at a more reasonable pace and leave work early enough to spend time with their families, they said.

“We are the backbone of this industry and we know what we need to have dignity and respect at work,” said Aurelia Gonzales, who has worked as a housekeeper at the JW Marriott Le Merigot for 18 years.

Local 11 proposed a 3,500 square foot cap for all hotels, noting that housekeepers at union hotels like the Fairmont Miramar already clean around 3,500 square feet during their shifts. City of Santa Monica staff recommended the council adopt a 4,000 square foot cap, which is consistent with similar ordinances in other cities.

The council decided to differentiate between hotels based on size after several smaller hoteliers said their housekeepers would clean 3,500 square feet more quickly than they would in larger hotels that require a higher level of cleaning.

“We have to be protective of those few hotels we have in town that are reasonably affordable,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer. “I’m concerned about adding additional financial challenges to those smaller, more affordable hotels.”

But many larger hoteliers and housekeepers told the council Tuesday that housekeepers will reach a 4,000 square footage cap in six or seven hours, forcing employers to send housekeepers home early. Workers will lose out on benefits and pay because hotels will have to convert them from full-time to part-time workers, they said.

Housekeepers at Shutters on the Beach and Casa del Mar told the council they want to keep cleaning rooms on a system that assigns credits to rooms based on their size and amenities, which is standard throughout the hotel industry.

“We’re very happy with our jobs and what we’re doing, we’re treated fairly, and I think we’re all against the square footage,” said Lisa Mason, a housekeeper at Shutters on the Beach. “I’m not forced into working anything over anything I’m supposed to work.”

Mayor Davis said hotels could assign their workers to other tasks after they clean their allotted square footage, however.

“The hotelier could have them do something that does not involve cleaning rooms, because the overtime rules only apply to square footage cleaned,” she said. “They could stay on as full-time employees.”

The ordinance will be enforced through private right of action, which would establish that hotel workers may file a civil action lawsuit against a Santa Monica hotel for violating any provision in the ordinance.

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