The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance last month that gives safety protections to hotel housekeeping employees and raises the minimum wage at more hotels in the city. Los Angeles joins neighboring cities West Hollywood and Santa Monica in passing a hotel worker protection ordinance.
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 still needs to be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to become law, requires hotels to supply their workers with personal security “panic button” devices and hotels of 60 rooms or more will be required to employ full-time security guards.
The ordinance also limits the total amount of square footage an employee is allowed to clean each day.
Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, said hotel workers would see a reduction in hours due to the mandates regarding the amount of 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.
There was no economic analysis done of how the changes will affect the city’s transient occupancy tax, Hillan said.
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 to put in more than 10 hours in a day. Exemptions will be granted to hotels demonstrating an economic hardship.
The ordinance also extends the current minimum wage 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 added that 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 all for the safety aspects of the ordinance, and that most of its members already have panic buttons for the housekeeping staff.
“Most of the safety standards we are either complying with or on the way to complying with,” Hillan said.
The issue will be one of cost, however, Reay said.
Hotels are just coming out of the downturn from the Covid-19 pandemic and having a hard time replacing employees. Inflation is also a concern to operators looking to protect their bottom line.
One of the requirements of the ordinance is that any hotel of 60 rooms or more must employ 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 rather than take on that burden themselves.
If a hotel has fewer than 60 rooms, the city will allow a supervisor or manager to act in the capacity of a security guard.
“But obviously they will have to go through training and everything else,” Reay said.
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 L.A. 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.
BizFed always encourages elected officials to conduct an economic assessment before imposing sweeping measures, particularly on an industry still reeling from the pandemic, Wiltfong added.
“It’s unfortunate they did not do so in this case,” Wiltfong wrote.
The action by the city council is not 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.
Like the Los Angeles ordinance, the Santa Monica law requires panic buttons for housekeeping staff and a square footage-based limit on how much space an individual worker 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 on the amount of space a worker can clean each day.
But the Los Angeles ordinance goes further than the other cities in that it requires mandatory daily cleaning of rooms and linens.
The mandate to clean rooms every day comes at a time when city residents are being asked to reduce their water consumption by up to 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 every day, it is an arduous task to do so and not nearly as simple as it had been, as hotels can no longer suggest it, Hillan added.
“We have to be careful about who leads that conversation,” he said. “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 (of interest),” Reay said.