The council voted 4-1, with Matt Hall against, to approve the Right to Recall ordinance, ensuring furloughed or laid-off hotel workers at six properties will be the first ones rehired once hotel operators begin to ramp up operations from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel, who brought forward the ordinance during a Nov. 17 meeting, said the ordinance is a way to protect vulnerable workers, single women, seniors and people of color adversely impacted by the pandemic and lower-wage employees.
She also said it was important for the city to protect the rights of workers, which is why hotel operators must follow a number of guidelines when notifying workers if they have been rehired.
“I’m looking forward to what we can achieve by protecting the workers,” Bhat-Patel said. “I’m advocating for folks who serve our community. Know it’s a challenging time for our hotels. I’ve represented the interests of the business community as much as possible. Unemployment levels without recall cause longer unemployment and they usually find lower-paying jobs.”
Several adjustments were made to the final enactment, including increasing the number of hours worked per week — six months prior to the layoff — from two hours to 10 hours per week. Additionally, employees have three to five business days after receiving the mailing to accept or decline instead of 10 days.
The ordinance, which only applies to hotels with 200 or more guest rooms, begins immediately and runs for 12 months, at which time the city manager will report back to the council for further action.
The council also included a provision to include a union collective bargaining agreement exemption. The language states, “The provisions of this chapter may be waived by the collective bargaining agreement if the waiver is explicitly set forth in the agreement or an amendment in clear and unambiguous terms.”
Unite Here Local 30 held a protest rally at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in February demanding a fair contract and wages for workers. Omni La Costa is one of six hotels covered under the ordinance.
“I can’t imagine being a single mom and navigating this pandemic,” said Bhat-Patel, who is expecting her first child in several months. “(I can agree to the) CBA part and remove that (top sentence). In order to tighten that up and incorporate the interests of the mayor and those I represent.”
The city will not enforce the ordinance, instead of leaving it as a civil matter for an employee to file a complaint with the San Diego County Superior Court.
A number of speakers came out in support of the measure saying workers need protections, businesses can do what they want and have lawyers, along with it being a “little guy versus big employer” situation.
Hall said the ordinance is an overreach from the council and will end up costing more jobs than it protects. According to Hall, hotel owners are scared the industry has already taken massive financial losses during the current recession, in addition to new state orders limiting the capacity at hotels.
The mayor also voiced concerns with potential litigation from hotels, citing an ongoing lawsuit against the City of San Diego for a near-identical policy, and any potential retroactive applications of the ordinance.
Lynn Mohrfeld, president of the California Hotel & Lodging Association, said the industry is hurting and 25% of hotels nationwide are delinquent on their loans. Mohrfeld said the ordinance is likely to have an “outsized impact on the survival of local hotels.”
Bhat-Patel and Councilwoman Cori Schumacher also discussed stripping legal protections for hotel operators, with Schumacher suggesting that vulnerable employees don’t have the financial means to litigate.
However, Councilman Keith Blackburn, who supported the measure, said he’d withdraw his support if protections for hoteliers were struck from the ordinance.
“People make frivolous lawsuits frequently … and there are plenty of people willing to back them,” Blackburn said. “It gives me heartburn when it’s a one-way protection.”