Oahu hotel operators hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are crying foul at a Honolulu City Council bill that would dictate to the managers which employees could be brought back to work as their facilities slowly reopen.
But the leadership and members of Unite Here Local 5, the hospitality workers union pushing the measure, say Bill 80 would ensure their laid-off workers return safely and in a fair manner that prioritizes seniority.
The measure gets its first airing before the Council Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee at 1 p.m. today.
The bill would require the hotels to recall a set amount of employees, calculated by the occupancy that the hotel will accommodate, with priority given to those with the most seniority in their respective job positions.
It would also require that the hotels “clean and sanitize every occupied guest room every day” and employ the number of housekeeping workers necessary to ensure that it is done.
Kekoa McClellan, spokesman for the American Hotel and Lodging Association Hawaii chapter, said the bill would make it more difficult for hotels to reopen at all.
“This whole recall language places an undue burden on the hospitality industry and will force the hotels to close and lay off thousands of employees,” McClellan said. “This action will hurt the very employees it is intended to help. A hotel cannot simply reopen based on some calculation of employee counts,” he said.
“If at 100% occupancy, I need six restaurants open to meet the need and demand of my guests. At 20% occupancy I’m not going to need all six restaurants open, and I wouldn’t have all six restaurants open,” McClellan said. “But as written, Bill 80 would force me to bring back 20% of my employees at all six restaurants.”
That also would apply to other areas of a hotel property, he said. A hotel wouldn’t open the same number of pools if the number of guests doesn’t warrant it, he said.
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, agreed.
“This bill will handcuff a hotel property’s rehiring practices by tying it directly to occupancy, which will only discourage hotel management from reopening their doors until demand has increased and stabilized,” Hannemann said. “The indirect effect of Bill 80 would ultimately be that the local residents who comprise our tourism industry workforce will be kept off their jobs longer than necessary, for no discernibly good reason.”
Meanwhile, the requirement that each occupied room be cleaned and sanitized appears to contradict Centers for Disease Control safety guidelines and exposes employees to unnecessary risks, McClellan said.
Hannemann said such a requirement “flies in the face of both long-standing hotel protocols and current industry recommendations” and endangers the safety of hotel guests, front-line employees and their families.
The two groups also raised concerns about the legality of the bill.
“This proposed measure sets a dangerous precedent of local government overstepping its jurisdiction and meddling in the internal workings of private business entities,” Hannemann