At their July 19th meeting, the West Hollywood City Council will be considering a measure sponsored by Council members Lindsey Horvath and Sepi Shyne to take affirmative steps to put West Hollywood on the path to taking a small but important step to protect workers who are increasingly becoming pawns in the game to increase corporate profitability. This ordinance is socially responsible and imposes relatively minimal burdens on our local hotels. The “sky is falling” campaign against this proposal by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is as embarrassing as it is disingenuous.
While there are a couple of components of the proposal being considered at the next City Council meeting, the controversial issue is the proposal to limit the amount of rooms that a housekeeper can be required to clean during an eight hour shift. Because the size of rooms varies, particularly when a hotel has suites, the proposal limits the amount of square footage to be cleaned to 3,500 square feet. This is a figure that can easily be translated into rooms by the hotels.
As tourism and the hotel industry bounce back from the COVID pandemic, hotels have been attempting to increase corporate profitability by cutting labor costs. Some hotels have proposed making daily room cleaning an additional “amenity”. Marriot has cut housekeepers as part of their “recovery” strategy. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust owns five West Hollywood hotels, including the Mondrian. Jon Bortz, Pebblebrook’s CEO, has said that cutting labor, particularly housekeeping will be used to boost corporate profitability. While housekeepers are essential to the hotels, returning housekeepers have seen the mandated number of rooms to be cleaned in a single shift increased.
Locally housekeepers complain about having to miss breaks, skip lunch and work off the clock, to meet their room quotas. This ordinance provides protection to housekeepers to insure they are not being exploited in the name of “economic recovery”.
Despite the campaign of disinformation designed to derail this proposal, there is no “tourist cap” or room cap that restricts the number of room a West Hollywood hotel can rent. The so-called “cap” assumes that if housekeeper clean a fewer rooms that the hotel will not hire additional housekeepers to fill the gap. That would certainly be a moronic way to run a business. There are plenty of housekeepers who have not been called back to work; there is not labor shortage but for the fact that some former housekeepers have become discouraged when they hear about the current increased room quotas imposed by hotel management.
Housekeepers make $16 to $17 an hour. If you add in the various additional costs employers need to contribute, such as workers compensation, the costs to the hotel is about $25 an hour. That works out to $200 a day for an eight hour shift. If hotels decide they need to hire two extra housekeepers that would be a cost to the hotels of $400 a day, which would be spread out over the
number of rooms. If the hotel has 100 rooms rented a day, then the costs for two additional housekeepers would only add $4 a day per room. Obviously if the hotels are smaller they may only need one additional housekeeper but any way you calculate the extra cost to the hotels it is hard to see how it could increase room rates by $10 a day. As our local room rates average around $300 a day, I doubt any guest would quibble about any costs. That assumes that the hotels would not have absorbed some of the costs. It also assumes that hotels could not use overtime to avoid hiring more housekeepers.
As to the millions of dollars in potential Transient Occupancy Tax, (hotel tax) being lost, there is virtually no evidence that this ordinance would cause any appreciable loss to our TOT tax. Nor is there any evidence that this ordinance will adversely impact local tourism; the figure of $20 million in economic loss to the City is simply a dishonest fabrication.
I know that you have heard from one of my former City Council colleagues on this issue, who has predicted devastating economic impacts if these worker protections are enacted. When I was a Council member, I served eight (8) consecutive years on the City Council’s budget sub-committee, which was a record when I left office in 2003. I introduced putting the City on a two year budget cycle and was key player in getting the Eastside Redevelopment Agency created. I am no stranger to the City’s budget. The City is more likely to have a greater loss of revenue from removing metered parking spaces to help local restaurants and bars than from this proposed ordinance.
The proposal to protect our local hotel housekeepers is not some untried, wild-eyed concept. It has been enacted in Oakland, Long Beach and Santa Monica without any appreciable impacts to their TOT or to their local tourism industry.
The corporate funded “Save Our Services WeHo”, predicts huge impacts on our municipal tax revenues which will force the City Council to cut social services and law enforcement. Aside from fictional math, these allegations are simply classic fearmonger. West Hollywood won’t be cutting social services or law enforcement as a result of this ordinance. Neither Santa Monica nor Long Beach had to make such cuts.
West Hollywood has a history of linking our finances with social justice. We don’t invest our revenues in fossil fuels or in the firearms industry. Why should be allow one of the key components of our budget be tied to exploitive corporate labor practices? In this case the burden being placed on our hotels is relatively light compared to the benefits that will inure to local hotel workers.
At some point you have to decide what side of the economic equation you will stand. I am proud that the City Council is taking steps to keep West Hollywood on the path of economic justice.
Be sure to contact the City Clerk to make your voice heard on this issue which is on Monday’s City Council agenda.