On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council passed an ordinance requiring hotels and many other commercial businesses to bring back employees based on seniority, following the lead of other city council decisions in Los Angeles and Oakland.
Ordinance banks on passage of AB 3216
The ordinance, which applies to large hotels with over 200 rooms and maintenance and security companies with at least 25 employees, was approved by the Council so that more experienced employees, who are more likely to be better paid, can be rehired at their original pay rather than management picking people with less experience for less pay. Those employees would then have three days to decide to go back back to work.
Much of the ordinance is riding on the signing of Assembly Bill 3216 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. AB 3216 would give service and hospitality workers a right to return to their job and would be first in line to get their job back. The bill has a drastically different bar on the minimum number of hotel rooms compared to the ordinance, covering hotels with as few as 50 rooms and a larger number of other associated employees. A caveat in the bill granting up to 12 weeks of leave and paid emergency leave was taken out in amendments during the summer before the bill went to final house votes.
Should the bill be signed, the new ordinance would only be in place until the end of the year. If AB 3216 is vetoed, the ordinance will continue on until March of 2021.
A growing need for hotel workers, especially once more COVID-19 restrictions are lifted was another catalyst for the bill. And while retaining older employees to keep their original pay was a major reason, hiring by seniority was also adopted to get the most qualified employees in first so that hotels could be better run.
Defenders, opponents of ordinance make their case in San Diego
Many hospitality workers, hospitality worker groups, and hotel experts said that the seniority ordinance is good for hotels in San Diego.
“With the most experienced workers being the first to come back, you have people who know how to do the jobs most efficiently,” explained Linda Cardinale, a former hospitality union representative and current hotel advisor, to the Globe. “You also can’t play favorites. Going by seniority erases that and keeps more seasoned workers who may find it harder to find a job at an older age.
“Plus, for workers there who have worked longer, they tend to know where everything is and how to do things properly. Newer workers may not have had enough time to get all that down pat. And it also shows loyalty to workers who gave more by being the first to come back.”
However, many others saw the ordinance as being largely anti-business and not hiring back people based on merit.
“Regional hotels are facing the most serious economic crisis in the history of San Diego. Flexibility and business expertise is needed to save the industry from unprecedented declines in tourism due to COVID-19,” explained San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman. “Instead of supporting this vital sector, the City Council has attached a heavy bureaucratic anchor around the necks of the hotel industry. This heavy handed ordinance drafted by union bosses could result in the closure of several hotels already struggling to survive.”
Hotel workers were mixed on their opinion of the ordinance, with many younger employees not being happy with the ordinance.
“I have a perfect record and commendations from working 5 years at a hotel in Downtown San Diego,” said Conchita Diaz, a housekeeping attendant in San Diego, in a Globe interview. “And I can’t go back because there are others, with worse performance records, coming back before me simply because they were there first. It isn’t fair to us, no matter what people say. It’s not right.”
The ordinance, which passed 7-2, went into effect Tuesday night. Other cities are expected to join San Diego with similar ordinances later this year.