Unworkable City Council pandemic proposals could gravely harm Chicago’s hotel industry

Instead of adding additional regulations that would further hinder an already struggling industry, elected officials at all levels of government should consider ways to support hotels and their employees.

SHARE Unworkable City Council pandemic proposals could gravely harm Chicago’s hotel industry
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Dozens of out-of-work hotel workers and members of Unite Here Local 1 gather on Nov. 13 at Federal Plaza in the Loop to demand hotels to give them back their jobs, including their pay raises and benefits, once the economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The hotel industry is facing the worst economic challenge any of us have seen. The anchor of Chicago’s economy — the tourism industry — has been, and continues to be, decimated. We all know the reason — COVID-19.

There have been times when hotels have more employees working than reservations on the books. We continue to have to make payroll, pay for PPE that the government did not provide, try to make the minimum loan payments on our properties and pay millions of dollars in property taxes. What you have read in the news about hotels is 100%, absolutely correct — many across Chicago simply will not survive the downturn.

Opinion bug

Opinion

Yet, a series of unsafe, and unconstitutional, proposals are being considered in Chicago’s City Council, including one that would force housekeepers to clean rooms every single day no matter the risk to their health and welfare.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotel industry has worked tirelessly to protect workers and guests in the face of unprecedented health and economic challenges. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have worked diligently to implement health and safety procedures to protect employees and guests. We have enhanced the cleaning of all public spaces, provided PPE to staff and utilized technology to limit in-person interactions.

On the other hand, the City Council is considering a proposal directly contradicting guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the Chicago Department of Public Health that states: “Provide daily housekeeping service during stays upon request only … in order to limit staff time in guest rooms.” Any changes to these health and safety practices must be based in science — not the will of unions to make sure more housekeepers are included on hotels’ payroll. Circumventing science and playing to their own interest could put hotel workers and guests’ health in danger at a time when virus transmission remains out of control.

The second proposal, known as the “Right to Return to Work” ordinance, unfairly singles out the hotel industry with legislation deemed unconstitutional by other local governments and legal opinions, at a time when flexibility and nimbleness in adapting business practices are key to our survival. This ordinance requires hotel management to rehire employees based on seniority, regardless of an employee’s individual skill set. This could slow down the rehiring of workers who have been out of work for the last nine months.

Hotels should be able to rehire the right employees for the right roles, immediately. This proposal will be a logistical nightmare.

Finally, this proposal does not take into consideration operational need, travel demand or the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry and the health of our communities

The hotel industry once directly employed more than 144,000 Illinoisans and supported another 137,000 jobs. But the cancellation of conventions and events, as well as record-low occupancy rates, resulted in nearly 132,000 lost hotel jobs since the pandemic began. These were heartbreaking decisions, especially considering many employees worked at these hotels for many years. We are eager to safely bring these employees back to work, and once that happens hotels must have the freedom to make basic hiring decisions needed to quickly ramp up operations and expand payrolls.

Instead of adding additional regulations that would further hinder an already struggling industry, elected officials at all levels of government should consider ways to support hotels and their employees.

Thomas J. Baltimore, Jr., chairman & CEO, Park Hotels & Resorts Inc.

Jon E. Bortz, chairman and chief executive officer, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust

Robert Snyder, president, Tishman Hotel Corporation

Tamara Brown, vice president, Service Properties Trust

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