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In first-of-its-kind legal action, agency alleges resort violated state “return-to-work” law for workers laid off during the pandemic
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA- The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) issued a citation Wednesday totalling $3,264,484 to the swanky but controversial Terranea Resort, alleging that the hotel failed to recall, or to timely recall, workers to their former positions in violation of a recently-enacted state law. The Terranea resort is the first company known to be cited by the agency for allegedly violating workers’ rights under the law.
Signed into law last year, SB-93 requires hotels, event centers, and other hospitality businesses to offer employees whom they laid off due the COVID-19 downturn in tourism an opportunity to return to work in open positions for which they are qualified in order of seniority. The law provides job protection to some 700,000 laid-off housekeepers, cooks, waiters, and others across the state.
David Gomez Martinez, who was laid off by the Terranea after working 10 years at the resort, said: “Being laid off during the pandemic has been devastating for me and my family. We’ve struggled to pay our bills and keep food on the table. I am really glad to see the state stepping in to make sure Terranea complies with the law.”
The DLSE, which is led by California’s Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower, conducted an investigation in response to complaints from workers alleging violations of the recall law. More than a dozen Terranea workers–including servers, cooks, and room attendants–filed complaints.
After investigating Terranea’s entire recall process, the DLSE issued the citation to Terranea for $3,264,484 in liquidated damages and interest owed to 53 workers for Terranea’s alleged failure to recall, or timely recall, workers laid-off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Terranea was also assessed $5,300 in civil penalties ($100 for each worker whose rights were violated).
Terranea workers were at the forefront of the campaign to enact SB-93. The company terminated most of its employees without making a binding commitment to rehire them and cut off their healthcare at the beginning of the pandemic.
Kurt Petersen, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, the hospitality workers’ union that fought for the law and helped the workers file complaints, said: “The Terranea has treated its veteran workers like they are disposable. This kind of behavior is not only immoral, but as the agency’s massive citation shows, it can also be illegal.” He continued: “I commend the Labor Commissioner for conducting such a thorough investigation and showing that our worker protection laws have real teeth.”
UNITE HERE Local 11 is a labor union representing over 32,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona that work in hotels, restaurants, universities, stadiums, sports arenas, convention centers, and airports.
Workers Report Increases of COVID-19 Cases at LA Hotels as Industry Continues to Reopen
Los Angeles, CA: On Wednesday dozens of hotel workers protested for Los Angeles County to pause reopening of hotels to tourists.
The demonstration drew attention to the surge of workers who since returning to work have tested positive for COVID-19, experienced COVID-19 symptoms, or have quarantined because of contact with guests or co-workers who tested positive for COVID-19.
“UNITE HERE Local 11 has learned of at least 85 hotel workers and guests who have either tested positive or have undergone quarantine since the reopening of the hotel sector to tourists and leisure guests on June 12th. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors needs to put the health and safety of workers and guests first,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11.
The union believes the true number of people who have contracted the virus or who should have quarantined due their potential exposure is significantly higher, since workers are fearful to report their symptoms or diagnoses and hotels have failed to adequately trace guests and workers who have had contact with COVID-19-positive individuals.
During the protest, workers also raised concerns that hotels have failed to inform guests when a worker or fellow guest has tested positive or has been forced to quarantine.
“I am very concerned that when my hotel opens, I will put myself and my family at risk, I have my son, elderly brother, and grand-daughter living with me. They are my everything. I am scared to go back to work,” said Luz Rizo, a housekeeper at the W West Beverly Hills for nearly 20 years.
Earlier this month, a survey conducted UNITE HERE Local 11 with nearly 2,300 hotel workers found that 75 % of hotel workers do not believe hotels are ready to open. The union has sent a letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors expressing alarm about the rushed timeline of the sector’s reopening.