BBJ: Baltimore City Council bills aim to help laid-off hospitality workers reclaim their jobs

By Amanda Yeager

Sept. 16, 2020 

The Baltimore City Council took up two bills the week of Sept. 14 that sought out to help laid-off hotel and events workers head back to their jobs as businesses begin to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The legislation, sponsored by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, would create a “right of recall” requiring some hospitality employers to offer jobs first to the employees who worked for them when the pandemic hit as they start to ramp up staffing levels. Another measure would ensure those workers could keep their jobs for at least a few months if their business changes ownership.

The council’s labor committee held a public hearing Sept. 17 on the right of recall bill, Council Bill 20-0544, and a work session on the employee retention proposal, Council Bill 20-0543.

Ray Moore, a laid-off banquet worker at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor hotel on Light Street, said he worries he won’t be asked to return to his position when the hotel starts to welcome back meetings and events. After 23 years at the Hyatt, he’s among the higher paid employees, and Moore said he fears the hotel would choose to hire someone else at a lower wage instead.

Moore is among the thousands of hospitality workers who have been laid off in the wake of the pandemic, which hit travel- and events-based businesses like hotels, stadiums and performance venues particularly hard. People of color and women have been especially affected, according to a report from Unite Here Local 7, which found that 69% of workers laid off from the Hilton Baltimore — the site of one of the largest hospitality layoffs in the city — were Black and 58% were women.

The right of recall proposal would extend similar protections for workers directly employed by hotels and events centers like stadiums, concert halls, arenas, race tracks and convention centers. It also applies to commercial property employers in charge of non-residential property that employs 25 or more janitorial, maintenance or security employees.

The bill would cover hotels with 50 or more guest rooms or gross receipts of more than $5 million in the 2019 tax year. Events centers are included under the proposal if they measure 50,000 square feet or more in total area or have a seating capacity of 1,000 seats or more.

Under the bill, employers would be required to offer positions that become available to employees that were laid off on or after March 5, as long as they had previously held a similar position or could learn how to fill the position with the same training offered to a new employee. If multiple workers are eligible for a position, the bill directs employers to make job offers in order of seniority.

The directive would be enforced by the city’s Wage Commission, which could order employers who violate the right of recall to reinstate workers with back pay and 10% interest, as well as pay a fine.

Representatives of local hotels and hospitals pushed back against the proposal, saying it would create another burden on businesses in an already challenging economic climate.

Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Donald C. Fry also submitted testimony opposing the bill.

“The timing of this legislation is concerning,” Fry wrote. “Commercial property employers, event center employers and hotel employers are facing significant loss of revenue in their operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These industry sectors are particularly hard hit from the economic downturn… The imposition of additional regulations upon them when surrounding jurisdictions do not have such rules would create a competitive disadvantage for these businesses.”

To read the complete story, visit the Baltimore Business Journal website.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal