By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Elida Aguirre, representing the Campaign to Stand with Women, told the Long Beach City Council she has worked at the Maya Hotel in Long Beach for 19 years.
“I am here because I am a housekeeper and I know what it feels to be woman when faced with the threat of sexual harassment from guests,” Aguirre said. “Sometimes we have to work in our areas and if something happens to us we don’t know if someone will hear us if we need help. I have marched in the streets many times and come to city council meetings more times than I can count…. I am tired of asking for support without a clear answer.”
Sept. 19 was no different. The city council voted 5-4 against a measure that would have provided hotel workers with greater safety tools against harassment and established workload limitations. Voting no were District 3 Councilwoman Suzie Price, District 4 Councilman Daryl Supernaw, District 5 Stacy Mungo, District 6 Councilman Dee Andrews and District Councilman 8 Al Austin.
The measure, which concerned hotels with 100 or more rooms, failed to pass despite support from politicians such as Rep. Alan Lowenthal and Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn. Attendees left the council chambers screaming, “Shame on you!”
The item would have directed the city manager to draft an ordinance that required such hotels to provide panic buttons, notices about harassers or sex offenders to employees, notices in guest rooms about the law concerning harassment, notices of employee rights concerning verbal or physical sexual misconduct by guests, and humane workloads that would have required the managers to pay a full shift’s worth of overtime to housekeepers who work on 4,000 square feet of floor space in a day’s work.
The Long Beach Police Department reported of at least two attacks against hotel workers in 2016. One was a sexual battery against a woman in the hotel industry, the other was a battery against a man.
“It is important that our folks are safe,” said Alex Montances of the Filipino Migrant Center before the meeting.
The proposal was presented as a both a woman’s issue and an immigrant’s issue.
“This definitely is a woman’s issue,” said former Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga during public comment. “It is also an immigrant issue. When you talk about the majority of housekeepers being women and being from immigrant backgrounds, then this is an immigrant issue. Don’t pussyfoot around. This is what it is.”
But the majority vote and opponents of the ordinance believed the comprehensive motion was too broad and lacked proper vetting.
Price said her concern with the proposed ordinance was that it singled out one class of worker, female housekeepers, but ignored other types of workers in the industry.
“We can’t say ‘yes’ to one class of employees,” she said. “What about the janitors, chefs, and people who work the front desks?”
Industry opponents cited the way ordinance was written as point of contention.
“We absolutely are diligent in making sure we have safe workplace for our people,” said Greg Keebler, general manager of the Hilton Long Beach Hotel. “The difference is in the wording of this ordinance and the things that are so prescriptive that they have been written to not allow for a resultant outcome, which may be worse than what you expect. They are written by people who have not spent 37 years in the industry to know what is up on the board is … [not] possible.”
“Tonight’s item is just bad public policy,” said Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “The chamber for years — if not decades — has made it a point to ensure that government does not hinder the progress of private sector…. At a minimum we’ve asked in the past to compromise, when we cannot agree. Tonight’s item is an example of the exact opposite. There is no compromise here.”
Prior to public comment, the proposal’s cosponsor, District 2 Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce addressed those types of remarks.
“We’ve been at this point before when business said, ‘We can’t do that because we’ll go broke,’” Pearce said. “This policy has vision; it fits the needs of Long Beach; it’s measureable and it’s something that we can be really proud of…. In the letter that we got from the Chamber, it says, ‘Just come to us, just come to us and talk to us’…. Well, people have.”
Maria Elena Durazo, national vice president of Unite Here hotel and restaurant workers, noted the council members were asked to take sides.
“It is much more significant to all of the Long Beach housekeepers and immigrants who are forced to live in fear: Fear of the whims of a pathological president, fear of what is on the other side of a hotel guest door, fear of having an unreasonable workload demanded of you and not having the power to say, ‘Ya basta!’”
Instead, that majority voted 5-4 to draft an alternative resolution to support safe workplaces throughout the hotel industry, protections for women, unionization, technology safety, and promoting diversity. But the resolution has no enforcement bite.