SEATTLE (Jan. 10, 2019) — On Wednesday, 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 percent “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.
“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,” Holmes said. “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.”
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 at www.unitehere8.org.
► ALSO TODAY in the Seattle Times — Seattle will ask state Supreme Court to review ruling that nixed rights for hotel workers — Seattle will ask the state Supreme Court to revive a voter-approved city law that gave new rights to hotel workers before being struck down last month. In 2016, 77 percent of Seattle voters passed I-124, requiring hotels to provide workers with emergency panic buttons, keep lists of guests accused of assaulting or harassing workers and bar those guests in certain circumstances.
“I’m so angry and sad that the hotels keep attacking I-124,” said Sonia Guevara, a Unite Here Local 8 housekeeper. “We know they can do these things for the workers … They just don’t want to.”