A Long Beach hotel workers union submitted 46,000 signatures to the city clerk Tuesday for a ballot initiative boosting overtime pay for housekeepers and mandating panic buttons to protect against sexual harassment and assault.

The city has 30 days to rule on whether at least 27,462 of the signatures are valid in order to place the measure on the November ballot.

Panic buttons have become a national issue in the wake of reports of widespread sexual harassment and assaults of hotel maids by guests. In a highly publicized 2011 case, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested for assaulting a New York hotel housekeeper. The charges ultimately were dropped.

The initiative would apply to hotels with more than 50 workers. Unite Here Local 11, the initiatives sponsor, represents 1,000 of the citys 4,000 hotel workers.

As hotels seek to cut costs, housekeepers face growing workloads of room quotas, according to the union. Between 2007 and 2013, Long Beach hotel room occupancy increased while the number of workers decreased, according to data collected by the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs & a Healthy Community.

The initiative would prohibit hotel employers from assigning employees overtime work when their shifts exceed 10 hours in a day, except in emergency situations, without obtaining a workers informed consent.

If housekeepers are assigned more than 4,000 square feet of floor space over an eight-hour shift, they would be entitled to double-time pay for the entire shift.

Hotels would be required to provide a panic button to any hotel employee who works in a guest room without other employees present. The small electronic devices allow an employee to summon immediate assistance.

The Long Beach unions motives were called into question by Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, who called the initiative a “smoke and mirrors attempt to unionize hotels, as there is a carve-out in the initiative for union hotels.”

A provision in the initiative allows unionized hotels to obtain a waiver for the overtime and workload provisions, based on negotiations leading to a collective bargaining agreement. The panic button requirement could not be waived.

The 11 largest Long Beach hotels, those with more than 100 rooms each, all provide their housekeepers with panic buttons, Harris said.

“The proposed initiative has little to do with safety but is rather an attempted power play by Unite Here,” Harris said, noting that the Long Beach city council turned down a similar proposal last September.

Harris released a photo of a Long Beach signature gatherer with a sign reading “80 percent of hotel maids in Long Beach have been assaulted. Sign here.”

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“The blatant falsehoods that Unite Heres signature collectors are peddling demonstrate they know that voters would not support their initiative if they used the facts,” Harris said, calling for a city investigation.

Between September 2016 and August 2017 – the year before the city council took up the panic button issue – Long Beach police reported at least two attacks against local hotel workers .

In one case, a sexual battery was committed against a female hotel employee. The other known crime was a battery committed against a male security guard.

However, panic button advocates say that hotel workers are often too intimidated to report assaults to police. The ballot initiative would require hotels to place signs on the back of each guest room door noting that hotel employees carry panic buttons.

The Long Beach initiative follows a Seattle law, approved at the ballot box in 2016. That measure limits workers to cleaning 5,000 square feet of space in a day, mandates panic buttons and contains a similar waiver provision for hotels where management and workers are bound by union contracts.

Staff reporter Andrew Edwards contributed to this story.


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