David Mendez

Muratsuchi proposes hotel worker ‘panic button’ bill

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by David Mendez

A bill proposed by South Bay Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi would require hotels to give panic buttons to employee use in cases where they fear assault or other emergencies while on the job.

Assembly Bill 1761, which was co-authored by Assembly members Bill Quirk and Wendy Carrillo, is based on a Seattle-area ordinance, Muratsuchi said. It came, in part, from the national “#MeToo” movement, which has raised the profile of sexual assault in the workplace.

“I believe hotel housekeepers are among the most vulnerable,” Muratsuchi said. “In California in particular, many are Latino and Asian immigrants, working class, and often find themselves alone in with men in guest rooms, making them vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment.”

The bill also stipulates that hotels maintain a list of guests who have been formally accused of violence or sexual harassment against an employee. Hotels must refuse service to guests on those lists.

But under the bill’s current language, each hotel would be responsible for its own list; a shared list mandate, Muratsuchi said, is not included due to the hotel industry’s concerns over privacy and due process.

According to Muratsuchi, the bill was developed with the assistance of UNITE HERE, a labor union representing hospitality industry workers.

But UNITE HERE California political director Jack Gribbon said that the union was not asked for its opinion, only told that a bill was forthcoming.

“Bottom line, at the moment, this is not a UNITE HERE sponsored or endorsed bill as we are having our legal representatives look at the language and consulting with our locals in [California] about it,” Gribbon said.

Andrew Cohen, of UNITE HERE Local 11, said that setting protections for housekeepers against sexual assault has been a central issue to the union for many years, though it’s only part of the equation.

“To us, an ordinance like this, and a law requiring panic buttons is a tool to protect themselves, but not the solution,” Cohen said. “It’s important to have a work environment where speaking up is allowed.”

Local hotelier Mike Zislis, owner of the Shade Hotels in Redondo and Manhattan Beach, said that his businesses are quick to kick out troublemakers

“If anyone pulls any shenanigans — if they’re abusive in any way – they’re blackballed for life,” Zislis said.

All his staff, he said, have walkie-talkies, and they’re in constant contact with the front desk. Cleaning staff also enters two to a room and doesn’t enter when a guest is present. That’s not a common practice in all hotels, he said.

“Two [attendants] per room is not the standard,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, a spokesperson for the California Hospitality and Lodging Association. “you very often see multiple room attendants per floor, working in close proximity to each other

Zislis is skeptical of the proposed law.

“It’s probably well-intentioned, but with all good intentions there are always costs, like implementation,” Zislis said. “I don’t need a law to tell me to kick a guy out.”

Committee hearings on AB 1761 have not yet been scheduled, Muratsuchi said. 

 

 

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