Laid-off hotel workers show support for ordinance that keeps workers from being replaced ahead of L.A. City Council vote

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Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez joined laid-off hotel workers Tuesday to support ordinances aimed at keeping workers from being replaced by younger, cheaper labor.

The council is set to vote to approve the “Workers Retention and Recall” proposal Wednesday.

The ordinance would require certain hospitality employers and others to offer jobs to workers who they laid off because of the pandemic, and rehire them based on seniority when the economy rebounds.

It’s meant to help housekeepers, janitors, maintenance workers and others who have worked in hospitality businesses, at hotels, airports and commercial venues for years and then lost their jobs as the coronavirus crisis took hold of the local economy.

“It’s the only fair thing to do,” Martinez said, standing on the steps of city hall Tuesday morning.

Martinez acknowledged the $2.2 trillion relief package from the federal government, but said it doesn’t go far enough to protect workers.

“If we learned anything about the last financial crisis of 2008, is that more often than not, the federal relief goes to benefit big business, corporate executives, and there is no commitment for working Angelenos who are actually critical for their businesses success,” she said.

Martinez said the ordinance will expand workers’ rights and act as a commitment that “the things we love will be there when we return.”

“What good is having the fanciest amenities without janitors and housekeepers to keep those facilities clean?” she said.

The proposal applies to venues with more than 1,000 seats, hotels with at least 50 rooms and commercial businesses or factories that employ at least 25 janitorial, maintenance and security workers. Unionized businesses are exempt if their workers already have retention rights.

Raquel Lezama, left, outside her home in Los Angeles after walking with her daughter Monica Ramos, center, to Manual Arts High School to pick up grab-and-go meals for the family.(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
Raquel Lezama, left, outside her home in Los Angeles after walking with her daughter Monica Ramos, center, to Manual Arts High School to pick up grab-and-go meals for the family.(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Martinez was joined Tuesday by leaders from large workers’ unions who back the measure and employees who have lost their jobs at the Mr. C Beverly Hills and the Chateau Marmont, two luxury L.A. hotels.

Michael Racanelli said he was a bellman at Chateau Marmont in Hollywood for five years before he was “unceremoniously” let go, along with several other coworkers.

“We all need to figure out how we’re gonna pay rent or how how we’re gonna have health insurance, and ultimately, what’s going to happen when this is all over,” he said.

The hotel organized an online fundraiser to raise $200,000 to help its employees.

“The drastic and unspeakably painful layoffs required could not be avoided, and the devastating impact on our family is incalculable,” the Chateau Marmont’s owner André Balazs wrote on the GoFundMe page.

The hotel committed to “recall workers as needed and, when possible, by seniority when business returns to normal. “

Raquel Lezama, a former Mr. C Beverly Hills employee, also joined the lawmaker outside city hall Tuesday.

She said she had worked for two decades to pull herself out of poverty before she was laid off in mid-March, along with some 20 other housekeepers.

The hotel industry has been hit particularly hard amid the crisis.

About 70% of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed nationwide, and 8 in 10 hotel rooms across the U.S. remain empty, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The ordinance drew some opposition, including from the California Employment Law Council, which sent a letter to the City Council saying the measure would violate state and federal law and hinder businesses trying to recover.

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