SALINAS – After facing strong opposition from the hospitality industry, the Monterey County Supervisory Board on Tuesday struck down most of the provisions that business interests opposed in a law giving hotel workers the right to be rehired.
Supervisor Luis Alejo said Wednesday he was surprised by the business community’s response to the county’s proposed ordinance.
“I contacted the hospitality industry in January and they said they were not going to oppose the ordinance,” Alejo said during a press briefing on Wednesday. But object that they did. More than a dozen representatives from the hospitality industry and business groups called to Tuesday’s meeting to oppose the ordinance.
The emergency order is called the “right of recall of hotel workers” and requires all companies in the local hospitality industry to rehire former employees made redundant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new state law, SB93, offers similar protections, but the county ordinance added provisions not found in SB93.
Both laws require hotels to offer all employees who left office during the pandemic their old jobs in writing with pay and benefits intact when companies are ready to fill those positions. One key difference is that Alejo’s ordinance would add restaurants to the mix.
Among the provisions, the supervisors struck out of the ordinance many elements of the law. It allowed workers to sue employers for not rehiring them and allowed them to seek punitive damages. It was struck. Authorities have also removed restaurants from businesses that must comply with the ordinance.
The county ordinance also reportedly required hospitality employers to provide training to workers made redundant for other positions that became available. It’s no longer in the prescription. County legal staff will revise the order with these changes and report it to council on Tuesday.
Supervisor Mary Adams offered to try to come to an agreement between Alejo, who was supported by the hotel workers union, and the hospitality industry. She suggested taking a week for representatives from both sides to sit down and discuss potential compromises.
“It’s not acceptable for business owners,” Adams said Tuesday. “But I don’t think we’re that far away. Can we not have an ordinance that is acceptable to both owners and workers? “
But board chair Wendy Askew warned that a meeting to discuss compromise could violate the state’s open meetings law by discussing people’s affairs outside the public domain.
Adams also suggested removing the ability to collect attorney fees from the language of the order if a case goes to Monterey County Superior Court. But Alejo, who is a lawyer, asked what motivation a lawyer would have for taking a case if he or she could not collect the fees.
Under SB 93, if a company appears to be breaking the law, workers can take their complaint to the state’s Labor Standards Division, not the Superior Court.
Councilor Chris Lopez said the order had been discussed between him and his wife and questioned why workers felt they needed protection beyond SB93. It could be that “the right to public action at the state level is not effectively coherent,” he said.
On Tuesday, the ordinance will revert to supervisors for a final vote or to further amend the law.