The Seattle City Council voted Monday to put Initiative 124 on the November ballot. The initiative would require hotels to provide workers with panic buttons, health-insurance assistance and other protections.
Seattle voters will decide whether hotel workers such as housekeepers should be guaranteed panic buttons, help with health insurance and other benefits under city law.
The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to put Initiative 124 on the November ballot. Backed by hotel-workers union UNITE HERE! Local 8, it qualified earlier this month after campaigners collected more than 20,000 signatures.
The initiative’s provisions fall into several categories, including protecting hotel workers from violent assault and sexual harassment, protecting them from injuries, improving their access to medical care and preventing disruptions in the hotel industry.
The measure would allow for provisions in all but the first category to be waived as part of collective-bargaining agreements between union workers and their employers.
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According to the Yes on 124 campaign, Seattle’s hotel industry employs as many as 7,500 low-wage workers. That number is growing because several new hotel projects are under way and the city’s economy is booming.
“However, the hospitality industry has not adequately provided for the safety and security of hotel employees,” I-124 says. “Due to the unique nature of hotel work, hotel employees are subjected to a risk of harassment and violence on the job. Unregulated workloads result in injury rates for hotel housekeepers that are higher than those of coal miners.”
The measure adds, “At the same time, hospitality employees have the lowest rate of access to employer-offered health insurance of any industry in the state … and face unaffordable monthly premiums for family healthcare.”
In a statement Monday, a spokeswoman for the Washington Lodging Association said Seattle hotels are “100 percent committed to protecting our employees every day.”
But spokeswoman Jillian Henze also said, “We believe there are more straightforward ways we can protect our employees than this initiative and we share concerns with others about the legality of some of the provisions it includes.”
I-124 says a vast majority of Seattle hotel workers are women, immigrants and people of color. It says their problems at work “exacerbate existing structural inequities experienced by these groups.”
Several people who spoke before the council Monday made that point. Araceli Hernandez, program director at Seattle’s Casa Latina, an immigrant- worker rights organization, said I-124 will help protect housekeepers who struggle with language and immigration challenges.
One union hotel worker, Ida Calderon, told the council about sexual harassment she’s experienced, including serving in rooms with male guests not wearing pants.
And Councilmember M. Lorena González recalled working in a hotel herself while in college. González said she mostly worked at the check-in counter and folded towels.
“I got the easy jobs because I spoke English and was born in this country,” she said. “We need to make sure hotel owners and proprietors are doing the right thing.”
The first category of provisions in I-124 would, in part, require hotels to:
• Provide panic buttons to workers.
• Record, investigate and deal with accusations of guests committing sexual harassment or other violence, and in certain cases bar guests from returning.
• Post signs in guest rooms with information about the panic buttons and other protections for workers.
• Reassign workers away from accused guests, upon request, give them time to contact the police and cooperate with law-enforcement investigations.
A second category would, in part, require hotels to:
• Control chemicals, protect workers from them and provide workers with information on how to stay safe.
• In hotels of more than 100 rooms, force workers to clean no more than 5,000 square feet of guest rooms in an eight-hour workday.
A third category would, in part, require hotels with more than 100 rooms to help low-wage workers with health-insurance costs. Each month, hotels would be required to pay thsoe workers at least $200.
A fourth category would, in part, require an incoming owner, after buying a hotel, to hire for the first six monthsfrom a list of workers who had been employed under the previous owner.
I-124 also has a section barring retaliation against workers who take advantage of the rights in the measure and permitting them to sue to enforce the measure.
Henze, the Washington Lodging Association spokeswoman, said hotels are concenred about “some overreaching elements” of I-124.
“For example, this measure would mean hotel guests who are simply accused of harassment would be blacklisted without notification or due process,” she said. “The one-size-fits-all approach to big hotels and smaller hotels creates confusing workplace rules. We are also concerned about the unusual carve out for unions.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant last week urged the council to consider adopting I-124 into law immediately rather than putting it to the voters. But she didn’t receive much support from the rest of the council. On Monday she called that “a lost opportunity to show leadership.”