POLITICS
08/01/2018 03:47 pm ET

Hotel 'Panic Button' Measure Collects Enough Signatures To Qualify For Ballot

The initiative aims to provide hotel workers with a means of quickly reporting sexual assault.

An initiative that would require hotels with over 50 rooms to provide a “panic button” to workers so they can report sexual assault has gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in Long Beach, California.

The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce confirmed on Tuesday that hotel workers with the union Unite Here Local 11 had collected the required minimum of 27,462 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The Long Beach City Council voted down a similar measure last year, prompting organizers to redouble their efforts and submit over 46,000 signatures to the city clerk’s office in May.

“We are asking that Long Beach City Council does the right thing and listens to the voices of working women over the voices of hotel owners,” Lorena Lopez, the union’s organizing director, said in a statement. “Every day workers are denied these protections is another day women are put at risk. This cannot stand.”

The city council is scheduled to meet on Aug. 7 and may decide to adopt the measure without putting it to a vote, put it on the ballot or call for a study before taking either course of action.

Every day workers are denied these protections is another day women are put at risk. Lorena Lopez, Unite Here Local 11

The panic buttons are small electronic devices that workers can trigger to alert authorities, and they often have a GPS location. But opponents contend that the panic button measure, which also requires other protections and compensation for hotel employees, is a veiled attempt to force nonunion hotels to unionize.

“The City Council said no to a similar initiative last year due to the real reason that this issue is not about safety, it’s about forcing non-union hotels in Long Beach to enter into a collective bargaining agreement by creating overly burdensome and costly business regulations,” Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, told HuffPost on Wednesday.

The Long Beach Hospitality Alliance opposed a similar initiative last year, which it called “a transparent attempt to unionize all Long Beach hotels.”

Harris, who also serves as staff liaison to the hospitality alliance, argued that many local hotels already have panic buttons and other security measures in place to protect workers.

“We don’t need another ordinance to tell our industry what to do when we’ve already been doing it,” he said.

But union organizers say the initiative was motivated by reports of assault and harassment of hotel workers, including two women who alleged in a 2016 lawsuit that a supervisor sexually harassed them while they were working at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel.

The issue came to the forefront amid the Me Too movement, when Time named Juana Merala, a housekeeper at the Westin Long Beach, as one of the magazine’s “silence breakers.”

“I have chosen to speak out about the assault I experienced because I want to stop this from happening to other women,” Merala said in a statement that Unite Here Local 11 shared. “The protections in this initiative will make a huge difference for the hotel industry’s most vulnerable workers.”

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