New Haven Mayor Proposes ‘Return-To-Work’ Ordinance For Laid Off Hotel Workers
New Haven Register, Friday, November 13, 2020
By Brian Zahn
For seven years, Barbara Xocoyotl proudly cleaned rooms at a hotel in New Haven.
“There are things I like about my job, like you can pick up overtime. It’s a job I like,” she said through Spanish translator. She said she has done well to adapt to a routine at work.
However, when COVID-19 reached the city of New Haven in March, massively impacting the hospitality sector, Xocoyotl found herself laid off from her job. Now, Mayor Justin Elicker has proposed an ordinance to the Board of Alders that would give laid-off hotel workers like Xocoyotl the right to return to their old jobs as soon as those positions become available.
“The ordinance is crafted in a way to, in particular, impact individuals who have been laid off through no fault of their own because of COVID and to give them the right once hotels do begin to bring back people to be first in line to get back their job,” he said of his proposal.
“It doesn’t mean they have to take it, but the proposal is the hotel would have to offer their job back before giving it to someone else,” the mayor said.
“I can't find something somewhere else as easily as someone else might,” said Xocoyotl, 57, a member of Unite Here, Local 217, who is a New York City resident and a caretaker for two family members. “If I were young and mobile and didn’t have dependents, that would be one thing.” she said.
The proposed ordinance follows similar municipal Right of Recall legislation in cities such as Oakland, Calif. and Los Angeles. At the same time, according to the National Law Review online, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a state bill which would have “established statewide recall rights and right of retention for laid-off employees.”
“The bill would have created ‘return to work’ rights for some laid-off workers in industries hit hardest by the pandemic including hospitality, event centers, airports, building services and others” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in October.
The Review reported, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Diego each had passed a “right of recall and retention ordinances each with its own coverage and requirements.”
However, while the San Francisco Board of Supervisors “passed a temporary ordinance granting a right of re-employment to laid-off workers in certain industries,” that measure expired this month, the Chronicle reported.
However, American Hotel and Lodging Association vice president of government affairs and industry relations Troy Flanagan, told Time news, that Right to Recall mandates can “create a new operational burden as employers are trying to get back to business and reopen as best they can.”
The New Haven proposal also suggests as an option allowing workers either to return “to work in their previously held positions or in new positions available with qualified training.”
“There were a number of hotel workers that came to me talking about the hardship COVID-19 has caused for them and the fact they are now unemployed and concerned about not being able to get their job back,” Elicker said. If a laid-off worker’s job were not available, the ordinance would entitle them to a job they could perform competently with the same amount of hiring as a new hire. Elicker said the ordinance would protect employees of New Haven hotels, even if they do not live in the city.
As hotels reopen back to top
“As hotel businesses reopen to the public and return to regular service as the pandemic wanes, the promise of regular positions for previously laid off employees is important to the economic stability of many New Haven residents,” Elicker wrote in his proposal.
“This ordinance will benefit the general welfare of the City of New Haven by accelerating our transition back to a more stable labor market and mitigating the damages to our city’s economy.”
Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, said that she would defer comment while learning more about the proposal.
“I would like to talk the mayor and understand the context of this,” Kozlowski said. “I will have to do some research as well.”
However, Kozlowski noted, under Gov. Ned Lamont’s most recent order hotels are facing limits on use of meeting space and association gatherings, based on the set indoor limits.
Hotels in the state are running at only about a 40 occupancy rate, she said.
“We are expecting that number is actually going to fall in the fall and winter and without business travel we are not going to see recovery” quickly, Kozlowski said.
She noted that among elements contributing to that are that students tours, alumni functions, meetings, “all those activities, all of these are gone.”
“We’re not having any of that business coming in,” Kozlowski said. “We’re seeing occupancy decline across the state.”
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities said it supports Elicker’s ability to think “outside the box” to try to help protect workers’ rights to be recalled, if and when hotel industry starts to regain is economic footing and is attracting more business, then has a need to recall works who were laid off. The organization noted workers in New Haven contribute to the economy and the region through their spending.
The proposed New Haven ordinance must be assigned to a committee of the Board of Alders.