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City to Draft Groundbreaking Ordinance Protecting Santa Monica Hotel Workers from Sexual Violence
By Jorge Casuso
October 26, 2018 -- In what the local hotel union called a "historic moment for Santa Monica," the City Council on Tuesday voted to quickly draft a groundbreaking ordinance to protect housekeepers from sexual violence and heavy workloads.
The proposed ordinance would require hotels to install "panic buttons" in all guest rooms, protect hotel workers from "unreasonable workloads" and provide comprehensive education and training for supervisors and staff.
Local laws with similar provisions have been approved in Chicago, New York, Seattle and Las Vegas, but Santa Monica's would be the first of its kind in Southern California, supporters said.
"This is a historic moment for Santa Monica, and your decision tonight will set a precedent for the entire region," said Danielle Wilson, research analyst for UNITE HERE Local 11.
The union, which represents hotel workers in Santa Monica, brought the issue, and the key provisions of the proposed ordinance, to the City's Commission on the Status of Women, which recommended the Council take action.
The request from the Commission came in the form of a letter with no report attached ("Union-Backed Proposal Takes Unusual Route to City Council Agenda," October 19, 2018)
Commission Chair Sylvia Ghazarian told the Council that housekeepers are "at increased risk of sexual harassment and assault" because they are "isolated and rely on tips."
She urged the council to require "emergency devices" and "protect workers from retaliation when they use them."
Housekeepers, Ghazarian said, are "unexpectedly cornered, trapped, harassed, inappropriately touched or at risk of rape" with no security cameras to capture the abuse.
A survey of housekeepers in Chicago found that 49 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced guests who "arrived at the door naked, exposed themselves or flashed them," Wilson said.
She said the union and hotel workers are "encouraged to see the MeToo movement sweep across the nation."
Council member Kevin McKeown made a motion to draft an ordinance, but some Council members and City Manager Rick Cole worried the issue was too complex to rush.
Cole cautioned that the City is "not set up yet to enforce those kinds of rules."
"We can pass laws all day and all night and the real question is whether they will be enforced and how they will be enforced," Cole said.
City Attorney Jane Dilg said the budget for enforcement was "outside my prerogative" but suggested the City could contract with the County, which enforces Santa Monica's minimum wage law.
She also suggested the city could hold a study session before drafting an ordinance Cole said would be "breaking new ground.".
Councilmember Tony Vazquez wondered how workloads, which are negotiated, can be enforced.
"The panic button seems to be the number one thing," he said.
Councilmember Pam O'Connor made a substitute motion to hold a study session "to have a good understanding" before drafting an ordinance but it failed to pass.
"I don't want to put this off," McKeown said.
The Council then voted on his original motion, which passed unanimously.
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