With Governor Gavin Newsom reopening more businesses as coronavirus cases decline, California lawmakers have passed a bill requiring some hotels, stadiums and other hospitality businesses to give laid-off workers back their jobs.
Hospitality businesses were some of the hardest hit by the state's stay-at-home order, with no fans in professional sports stadiums, no travelers staying in hotels and empty office buildings, and leaving airports requiring fewer concierges and food service workers.
Newsom has relaxed the restrictions of the coronavirus as more people are vaccinated and the number of new cases decreases. If things continue to improve, Newsom said he will lift all restrictions on June 15.
As businesses prepare to resume normal operations, Democrats who monitor state legislatures said they wanted to make sure that laid-off hospitality workers are the first to get their old jobs back. The bill requires hotels, stadiums and cleaning companies to notify their former employees when their jobs are available again and give them five days to decide whether to return.
Democrats say the bill protects workers. Senator Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley, said that during the pandemic, women lost more jobs and left more workers than men.
"So you could also consider this bill as a very important law to get women back into work," she said.
The legislature passed a similar bill last year. But Newsom vetoed it, saying it was too broad and putting too much of a burden on struggling companies.
Lawmakers made revisions this year to change Newsom's mind.
For starters, the new bill only applies to employees who had been in employment for at least six months before the pandemic started and were fired specifically because of the pandemic. Also, laid-off workers cannot sue to enforce the law. Instead, the division of labor norms has "exclusive jurisdiction" to enforce it. And the bill will automatically expire on December 31, 2024, unless lawmakers agree to renew it.
Newsom has not said whether he will sign this bill into law. But lawmakers used the budget process to approve the bill, meaning the governor's office was part of the negotiations.
The bill applies to hotels with 50 or more rooms and event centers – including stadiums, arenas, race tracks, and convention centers – with at least 1,000 square feet or 1,000 seats used for public performances or meetings.
Companies that don't follow the rules can be fined $ 500 per employee per day. Assembly Heath Flora, a Republican from Ripon, said that most companies should not be forced to re-hire their former employees, but many would like to do so because those employees have already been trained.
"But to impose the burden, the fines, the fees, the liability on the employer is unacceptable," Flora said Monday during a debate on the bill in the General Assembly.
David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West, said that of the 48,000 union members, about 14,000 lost their jobs during the pandemic. He said those workers should not depend on the goodwill of their former employers.
“It is such bills that help workers ensure that they are part of the recovery, too,” he said. "The recovery cannot simply take place with private sector stimulation without protection for workers."
The legislation is Senate Law 93.
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