Op Ed: Justice for the Housekeepers

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.

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Fly Swatter
Fly Swatter
2 months ago

Only in West Hollywood, another fly swatting contest between the pots and the kettles!

Tom
Tom
2 months ago

Just what I want in my expensive post-pandemic hotel room in WeHo- less room cleaning. I don’t really want to spend the night in a place that has Amazon fulfillment center style quotas on the people responsible for cleaning my hotel sheets.. Just what I want in my expensive post-pandemic hotel room in WeHo- less room cleaning. I don’t really want to spend the night in a place that has Amazon fulfillment center style quotas on the people responsible for cleaning my hotel sheets.. It’s like a bad joke version of the old Helmsley Palace ads with Leona: “I didn’t… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Tom
Michael Grace
Michael Grace
2 months ago

West Hollywood. The former home of social justice and now a retirement center of old dreary white male anti-union bigots.

JJ1
JJ1
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael Grace

What does his skin color have to do with anything?

Sellout
Sellout
2 months ago

How does this help residents?

Stevie
Stevie
2 months ago

The great thing about a capitalist country is the worker is free to leave at any time to find more lucrative employment. If an employer finds they cannot retain employees than policies will change, unless one lives in a Socialist city as WHD where the city forces change where price increases are then past on to cover these new restrictions.

Ken Howard
Ken Howard
2 months ago

The City of West Hollywood was founded on ideals of social justice, for sexual and gender minorities, but also for immigrants, BIPOC, and people with HIV/AIDS and other disabilities. The foul, disgusting, greedy millionaires and billionaires (including ones who donated against marriage equality??) do not need any more money in their bursting pockets at the expense of (usually) low-paid immigrant labor. RISE UP! I say empower the people who actually WORK for a living in this City and take the worker protections even further. I support Horvath and Shyne’s efforts to fight back against exploited labor, the majority of whom… Read more »

WeHo Rocks!
WeHo Rocks!
2 months ago

Since when does Steve Martin know anything about hotel operations… He’s a shill for Unite Here to mess with non-union hotels. C’mon Steve…

Art
Art
2 months ago

Very well-reasoned Steve! Thanks.

William Seegmiller
2 months ago
Reply to  Art

Great job Steve. Thanks for elevating the dialogue and directly addressing the criticisms people have been raising.

Shawn Thompson
Shawn Thompson
2 months ago

To one more time see my mail box full of spin flyers with no name of who is paying for them is what’s wrong in WEHO politics.

Randy
Randy
2 months ago

It is nice to finally see a counterpoint. And I would love to see those workers protected. However, I have a friend who works at a luxury hotel nearby. He says that they’re having a hard time getting housekeepers to work. Why? Because unemployment is sometimes paying more than they would make at that low income job. That could be one of the reasons. Here is some more math. $17 times 40 hours a week equals $680 a week. The maximum benefit for unemployment, including the $300 from the federal government, could be as high as $750 a week. I… Read more »

Josh Kurpies
Josh Kurpies
2 months ago
Reply to  Randy

FYI, according to EDD’s Benefit Calculator, someone making $680/week ($2,720/month) would receive a weekly unemployment insurance award of approximately $318/week, or $618/week including the $300 from the federal government. (Imagine trying to survive off of $32,640/year and the pandemic hits, you lose your job and get on Unemployment Insurance that leaves you at the whim of Congress and a dysfunctional state agency unable to answer their phones and has over 1 million unemployed workers waiting more than 3 weeks (thousands much longer) for benefit payments and if you are one of the lucky ones to actually get paid you take… Read more »

Randy
Randy
2 months ago
Reply to  Josh Kurpies

Thank you for doing the math on that. I’m not trying to generalize anyone, and I know that they are hard workers. I’m talking about people who have already navigated the system, are already on unemployment, drawing benefits. I’m not saying it is easy to live that way. But if I had to make a choice, I’d probably stretch that out as long as I would be able to, considering the small difference in pay. Neither of us considered taxes on either income, or tips on housekeeping. I personally know a handful of people who have chosen to stay on… Read more »

Josh Kurpies
Josh Kurpies
2 months ago
Reply to  Randy

Randy, I actually agree with most of the points you make, I responded with UI information because I hear so many employers make similar statements, no matter how many economists repeatedly tell employers that people will work for you if you pay them more.

Randy
Randy
2 months ago
Reply to  Josh Kurpies

Josh, thank you.

Caboom
Caboom
2 months ago
Reply to  Josh Kurpies

Would it be possible to take into account that often many people receiving unemployment are doing gig jobs, being paid in cash…Or do we believe that all unemployed who are receiving benefits just sit at home doing nothing?
I know that would be cheating the government, and no one would think of doing that!

Josh Kurpies
Josh Kurpies
2 months ago
Reply to  Caboom

The issue in question is the role the extra federal $300 has on people returning to work. People making a few dollars on side gigs and “paid in cash” and not report it as earnings for the week has likely been going on to some extent since the start of the unemployment insurance program. There’s no evidence to suggest the rate at which that might happen is higher or lower now – so how is it relevant to the question at hand? (Warning to anyone currently receiving benefits, if you you do not report hours worked each week and the… Read more »

Shawn
Shawn
2 months ago

Unfortunately it’s a hard issue to understand because both sides are lying to us. It’s not a tourism cap and it’s not about protecting workers. So if everything you say is true, why should the hotels be able to skirt the rules if they are unionized? Why is the union pushing the changes, but saying you can ignore them if you give us union dues? This is a backend way of getting the hotels to unionize. It’s the same union that tried to get ballot initiatives to cancel approval of hotel projects as a way to force the hotels to… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Shawn

My math is the same regardless of the room rate; the Staff report for the agenda item says the average room rate is about $290.00. I do my best to keep my facts straight.

WeHo Rocks!
WeHo Rocks!
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Since when do you know anything about hotel operations… You’re a shill for Unite Here who wrote this article for you to mess with non-union hotels. C’mon Steve… You’re just looking to line your posckets for the next election like Horvath/Shyne/Erickson.

JPM
JPM
2 months ago

I’ve been around long enough to know Steve is not good for business. Perhaps he seeks the union support in another race for his own self interests.

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