Hospitality industry

In yet another blow to hospitality workers, on Oct. 2, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 3216 – also known as the Right of Recall Bill – that would have required employers to rehire workers laid off due to the pandemic, offering them the first shot at returning to their jobs. 

Although many cities across California already have or have recently passed ordinances to protect hospitality workers, that hasn’t stopped businesses like the famed hotel Chateau Marmont in Hollywood – from taking advantage of loopholes such as one that excludes “private clubs” from the law. Over the summer, owner Andre Balaz announced that he would be reopening the hotel as a private club and not necessarily rehiring his former employees, stating that he wants “fewer staff and a different skill set,” according to Brittany Martin of LaMag.com.

AB3216, although pertaining to mostly low wage workers, found an unlikely ally in Major League Baseball players. The league was drawn into the fold by workers laid off from Pasadena’s Langham hotel, which has been hosting MLB teams visiting Los Angeles for years and hosted teams participating in the 2020 American League Division Series at nearby Dodger Stadium. For the events the hotel has been entirely occupied by the MLB in order to maintain COVID-19 protocols for the teams, their staff and support.

A group of 35 laid off workers from the hotel sent a letter to MLB’s corporate offices urging Commissioner Rob Manfred to “demand that the Langham Pasadena offer us an opportunity to return to our jobs and reinstate our health insurance as a condition of housing the playoff teams.”  The Major League Baseball Players Association took note and issued a statement in support of the workers, adding, “Players stand in solidarity with these workers as they seek to protect their jobs under local law and we urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 3216 extending similar protections to hospitality and service workers statewide.” 

It wasn’t only baseball players that went to bat for AB3216. Unions for the NFL and Disney as well as the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) – the union that represents over 160,000 film and tv actors, journalists, singers and recording artists –also fought for the bill’s passage.  

"Hospitality workers are the backbone of an industry that almost entirely shuttered due to COVID-19. Like many members of SAG-AFTRA, those workers, who often live from paycheck to paycheck, lost their jobs almost overnight, with very little to fall back on to weather a once-in-a-century economic collapse," said Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA president, in a statement.

With Newsom’s veto, workers who have already lost their income have now lost the security and peace of mind knowing that eventually, as things return to normal, their place of employment will no longer be waiting for them. Many of the affected employees have been at their jobs for years and have struggled to raise their families while working hard year after year for meager pay raises. 

“The governor had an opportunity to do the right thing. This bill would have allowed hospitality workers to return to their jobs – as things do reopen, so the veto is pretty devastating, especially to low wage workers who built the hospitality industry,” said Maria Hernandez of the Orange County Chapter of UniteHere11, a major labor union for hotel workers. “A lot of these dishwashers, housekeepers and cooks – who led this fight – went to Sacramento looking for the Governor to stand with them and unfortunately he didn’t. He sided with the wealthy hotel owners.”

The hospitality industry is vast, especially in Southern California. AB3216 would have helped workers at Disneyland, Dodger Stadium, the airports and the event centers across the region.

Brandon Rodriguez, a 23-year-old majoring in diagnostic imaging at Long Beach City College has worked for Disney for the past 2.5 years and is among the lucky ones at the park who is represented by a union. He works in retail, which has its own union that has negotiated a deal requiring that laid off workers be recalled based on seniority, similar to what AB3216 would have required of the hospitality industry at large. 

“The union really supports you even though the higher ups of Disney really don’t want one.  They’ve got your back,” Rodriguez said. 

However, the vast majority of workers in the hospitality industry don’t have a union and the pandemic has revealed just how vulnerable these people are during times of upheaval. Unfortunately for them, Newsom sided with the California Chamber of Commerce, which also donated $25,000 to his inauguration campaign.

In a statement the CA Chamber of Commerce called the bill a “job killer”  and “vague and unworkable,” adding that it “imposes an onerous and stringent process for specific employers to return to the workforce, which will delay rehiring and subject employers to litigation for any alleged mistakes.”  

Arguments against big bureaucracy and frivolous lawsuits is a tactic routinely employed by big business in its continual efforts to deprive workers of rights and protections.

“This bill was simple: it allowed these workers who’ve given decades of their life in this industry to be able to return to their jobs as the industry reopens,” said Hernandez.

“Big Hospitality” is more concerned with its  bottom line and profits. Loyalty to workers is second to that. The actions they have taken in the wake of COVID-19 layoffs, such as hiring new people off the street at lower rates of pay and depriving workers of already earned vacation time, goes to show exactly why AB3216 was necessary to begin with.

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