Hotel workers renew pressure for recall rights and job protection

In summary

California hotel workers are eager to see if state lawmakers can revive a proposal for a “recall right” for rehiring based on seniority or offering new help. Many are also concerned that the additional help from last month’s federal relief program will not help them.

Jhonae Mazique doesn’t feel like the person she was before the pandemic. The coronavirus deprived the 25-year-old of her reservist job at the Harbor Court hotel in San Francisco and sent her surfing on her sofa with friends. The stress of her situation has caused her to lose 30 pounds since she was laid off in March.

In Los Angeles, Raquel Lezama wakes up her three children for distance learning, but not before they join her in her new routine: meditation. The single mom lost her job as a minibar attendant at the Mr. C Beverly Hills hotel in March.

Hector Morales, 52, lines up at the North County Food Bank in Vista every two weeks. He devoted three decades of his life to working at La Costa Hotel and Resort in Carlsbad before the pandemic put him out of work. Today he is on the verge of losing his home.

Like thousands of laid-off hotel workers across the state, they wonder when – or if – they’ll get their jobs back. As the pandemic heads into 2021, hotel workers are eager to see if state lawmakers can revive earlier proposals for a “recall right” to re-hire based on seniority or come up with a new one. aid. And while many workers will receive $ 600 in out-of-pocket payments and an increase in unemployment of $ 300, they fear new aid from last month’s $ 900 billion federal relief program will reach them again.

Unions accused the first coronavirus relief program of being flawed for allowing large hotel chains to participate in the paycheck protection program, which aimed to help small businesses. UNITE HERE, the country’s largest hospitality workers union, alleges that hotels that took out PPP loans did not use the loans to rehire workers or extend benefits as planned by the program. Hotel officials called the abuse allegations baseless.

“The paycheck protection program did not protect jobs,” said Marty Leary, research director at UNITE HERE. “Certainly not in our industry.

Travel restrictions and a tanking economy devastated an industry fueled largely by business travel and tourism. The unemployment rate in the leisure and hospitality sector is 15% – twice the national unemployment rate – and holds the largest share of the jobs lost in the country at 35%. California’s entertainment and hospitality industry has lost 518,000 jobs since October 2019, according to data from the state’s Department of Employment Development.

In Los Angeles County alone, more than 16,000 hotel workers have lost their jobs. Lezama is one of them.

For most of that year, Lezama, 39, was unsure whether Mr. C Hotel would offer him a job again. She and 18 of her colleagues were permanently sacked. Lezama suspected the permanent layoffs were masked retaliation for their involvement in unionizing the hotel.

A National Labor Relations Board investigation validated this claim and the hotel agreed in a settlement to convert the permanent layoffs to temporary layoffs and restore recall rights for all 19 workers.

Recall rights – this is where the work has taken a big step forward. LA Local 11, UNITE HERE, has supported several recall orders for local workers in Southern California.

The city and county of Los Angeles both passed COVID-19 right of recall and retention orders over the summer, forcing companies to offer jobs to laid-off workers as soon as positions become available.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have done the same statewide, Assembly Bill 3216, saying the bill would impose “too great a burden” on employers in the hard-hit hospitality sector. Democratic Assembly member Ash Kalra, who drafted the bill, is still questioning whether he should reintroduce the bill, according to a spokesperson. The deadline for tabling the bill is February 18.

Lynn Mohrfeld, president of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, says recall orders are unnecessary as hotels have an incentive to rehire their already trained former employees.

He is challenging orders requiring recalls to be in seniority order, meaning hotels must offer positions to workers with the most seniority even if they had held a different position. Unions see it as a defense against employers seeking to cut labor costs by phasing out older and more expensive employees. Mohrfeld sees it as nothing more than an obstacle.

Morales did it right, climbing the ranks at La Costa for 32 years. A well-paying union job helped him start a family, get health insurance and become a homeowner. His fears that he would never find his job were allayed last month when the city of Carlsbad passed an ordinance requiring large hotels to guarantee the right of recall to laid-off hotel workers in the city. But he remains unemployed.

Now he is preparing to sell his house, standing in food queues and giving his son old drugs because he was kicked out of his health insurance.

“Everything I’ve worked for 30 years is going to be taken away in one day,” Morales said.

Jhonae Mazique, who is currently staying with a friend in Oakland’s Lake Merritt neighborhood, enjoys coming to the lake to clear her head in order to deal with the stress of losing her job. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Even though Lezama is guaranteed a recall by law in Los Angeles, she fears her employer will find a way around it. But it must first overcome the obstacles of today. His unemployment benefits expired last month. Left with no income, Lezama had to pull out her 401k to pay rent this month.

Mazique’s unemployment benefits are also due to expire soon. She was earning an income from her independent eyelash business before her supplies were stolen from her car in June. Now she is looking for a new job.

UNITE HERE alleged that the hospitality industry abused the paycheck protection program, prompting members of Congress to ask the Small Business Administration to investigate a company that has received millions.

The $ 669 billion PPP fund, which was renewed as part of the new stimulus bill with an additional $ 284 billion, has been proposed by lawmakers as a remedy for struggling small businesses, but Congress has cleared them. large hotel companies in the hospitality industry struggling to participate. The union alleges that hotel companies received PPP loans with no intention of spending 60% on salary costs as the loan requires to be canceled.

Mohrfeld says the work charges are just that – charges.

“I mean, has there been any other evidence or is it just UNITE HERE getting a letter from Congress,” Mohrfeld said. “As far as I know, these are just baseless allegations.”

Leary says the PPP was a bailout for the hospitality industry that failed to protect workers. The union estimates that 80% of its members remain unemployed. Leary says hotels could have used the loans to pay for health insurance for their laid-off employees, a reimbursable salary expense. They did not do it.

It’s simple for Mohrfeld. If hotels haven’t used PPP loans to rehire workers, it’s because there is no work for the employees to do.

Hotel occupancy rates in California were 45.7% in the last week of November, down 36% from a year ago. Travel to the state is expected to drop from 264 million visitors in 2019 to 160.9 million visitors in 2020, according to Visit California, bringing visitor spending to $ 66.1 billion from $ 144.9 billion in 2019 .

Industry forecasts are bleak. Hotel occupancy rates will be at 94% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, which means the payback is years away.

Updated January 7, 2021 to correct Hector Morales has recall rights due to a local ordinance.

This article is part of California Division, a newsroom collaboration examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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