Just before Christmas, the state Court of Appeals ruled that Initiative 124, which codified certain protections for hotel workers and was passed by Seattle voters in 2016, impermissibly contained more than one topic and invalidated the ordinance.
Earlier this week, the City of Seattle and UNITE HERE Local 8, the hospitality workers’ union, announced that they are appealing that ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Here is the text of their press release:
BREAKING: City of Seattle, Hotel Workers’ Union, Announce They Will Appeal Christmas Eve Overturn of Voter-Approved, First-In-The-Nation Sexual Harassment Protections for Hotel Workers
Seattle, WA – Today, the City of Seattle joined national and local leadership of the hotel workers’ union, UNITE HERE, to announce that they will be filing a joint appeal of the hotel industry-backed Christmas Eve overturn of the first-in-the-nation law giving groundbreaking sexual harassment and safety protections to workers. The citywide law was passed with a resounding 77% yes vote in 2016 by Seattle voters as Initiative 124, despite vehement opposition by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and a past attempt by the AHLA to overturn it in court.
Since its passage in 2016, Seattle’s sexual harassment protections for working women in hotels has set a national standard for workplace safety for hotel workers, and inspired similar laws in Chicago, Miami Beach, Oakland, and Long Beach, as well as ongoing efforts in Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA, and statewide bills with the same protections in both California and New Jersey. The appellate court rollback of these protections has minimal impact on unionized Seattle hotel workers, where workers have secured contracts with health and safety standards, but will directly impact the thousands of women working at non-union properties across the city.
“As workers, we have fought so hard for these protections, and we’ve forced the hotels to make changes, not only in Seattle, but around the country” said Sonia Guevara, who works at the Hilton Downtown. “Hotel workers have some of the highest rates of sexual harassment and injury of any industry. It makes me angry that until the Supreme Court reverses this decision, non-union workers will have to wonder how their hotel will respond to guest harassment and can’t know that they’re protected.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, along with UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor, expressed confidence in the strength of the case, and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda promised to work with the City Council to explore stop-gap protections to keep workers safe until then.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “Nearly 77 percent of Seattle voters spoke clearly when they approved this initiative in 2016, and my office will absolutely defend this law intended to improve the well-being of our hotel workers. We will petition our State Supreme Court to review the decision, and I’m hopeful that they’ll choose to hear our case and ultimately uphold the initiative. I’m disappointed with the court’s ruling, and we intend to argue how the initiative complies with our City Charter.”
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda stressed the backward progress this legal challenge presented, saying, “Initiative 124 provides groundbreaking safety and anti-harassment protections for hotel workers, representing some of our most vulnerable populations. At a time when governments, businesses, and institutions across our country are looking at ways to protect workers against harassment, we must protect what works. I will continue to stand with workers and look forward to working with my council colleagues and the Mayor to move forward policy that ensures that Seattle remains a safe place to work.”
Councilmember M. Lorena González echoed this sentiment. “The hotel and tourism industry continues to be prosperous in our city in large part because of the hard work of thousands of hotel workers. We must continue to ensure that these workers, who are primarily women and immigrants, are protected in the workplace consistent with our expectations in all other workplaces. I support City Attorney Pete Holmes’ vigorous pursuit to defend and uphold the overwhelming will of the voters by fighting to fully and timely implement this law.”
UNITE HERE Local 8 is calling on non-union hotel workers in Seattle to immediately contact Local 8 if management in their hotel attempts to change policies previously mandated by the law until the appeal is heard at the Supreme Court.
UNITE HERE Local 8 is the hospitality workers’ union of the Pacific Northwest and represents over 5,000 members working in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in Washington state and Oregon. Learn more atwww.unitehere8.org
The Appeals Court found that I-124 contains multiple separate parts, including:
- protecting workers who must enter guests’ hotel rooms from sexual harassment and assault by providing panic buttons and requiring hotels to maintain a list of guests who have been accused of sexual assault or harassment;
- requiring hotel employers to provide and use safety devices and safeguards, and prohibiting large hotels from requiring hotel workers to clean more than 5000 square feet per 8-hour day without time-and-a-half pay;
- requiring large hotel employers to provide healthcare subsidies to hotel workers or the equivalent of a gold-level healthcare policy;
- when a hotel changes ownership, requiring the new owner to hire from the list of employees prior to the sale for the first six months.
A separate legal challenge is also pending, arguing that the healthcare subsidies section is preempted by the federal ERISA law. That case is in legal limbo, given this recent decision that throws out I-124 in its entirety.