Baltimore Brew: Bills would put laid-off Baltimore hospitality workers first in line to get jobs back

By Ian Round

Sept. 17, 2020

With hotels and event centers beginning to reopen after laying off thousands due to Covid-19, unions are rallying in Baltimore to support City Council legislation intended to protect workers by putting them first in line to get their jobs back.

Under Bill 20-0543, when hotels, event centers or commercial buildings change ownership – with or without Covid as the reason – the new owner would be required to keep the outgoing owner’s employees, in order of seniority.

The outgoing owner would provide a list of employees, and the new business would be required to hire from that list for six months for jobs that are substantially similar.

Bill 20-0544 would require employers to bring back workers they laid off because of the pandemic as their businesses recover.

Both measures face stiff resistance from the business community and are opposed by the city Law Department.

“Unprecedented Job Crisis”

Laid-off workers from local hotels and event centers rallied in front of City Hall on Sept. 15 to support the bill.

Michael Hachey, of Unite Here Local 7, which represents employees at the Hilton Baltimore, Hyatt Regency, Marriott Waterfront and other affected businesses, said the legislation is necessary given the “unprecedented job crisis” caused by the pandemic.

Union leaders say the workers disproportionately affected by Hilton Baltimore layoffs are black women. (Unite Here Local 7)

He also pointed to disparity in the impact of this year’s layoffs on the workers Unite Here represents.

According to the union, 69% of laid-off workers were Black and 58% were women at the Hilton Baltimore, which laid off more workers than any other hotel in the city.

Similar legislation guaranteeing “recall rights” has been passed in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities.

Overregulating the Industry

Industry groups said they already routinely hire and rehire in the way the bills require, but that making it a legal requirement was too much to ask.

Rohrer said the bills overregulate the industry, and that hiring by seniority may not align with a business’s needs.

She also noted some of the ways hotels have worked with the city during the pandemic, including providing shelter to the homeless and donating to food banks.

“Overregulating an already struggling industry could result in permanent business, job, and related tax loss,” she warned.

Donald Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, has also opposed the bill, saying it would hurt competition.

“Such an expansion of government regulation is unacceptable as it seeks to hinder legitimate business decisions made by a private sector business in the hiring of personnel,” Fry wrote in his own letter.

He called the penalties businesses could face “excessive and unconscionable.”

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Source: Baltimore Brew