Chicago hotels have already endured city and county tax increases that have raised the total hotel room tax to a highest in the nation, 17.4 percent.
That’s well above Las Vegas and Orlando, Chicago’s two biggest rivals for convention business.
Now, they’ll be dealing with two more new mandates certain to increase the cost of doing business while a third is put on hold.
The first of the measures approved by the City Council Wednesday follows an emotional appeal from hotel workers who claim to have been sexually harassed.
It requires hotels to provide employees working alone with portable panic buttons — akin to a Medic-Alert worn by senior citizens — that would alert hotel security. Instead of connecting the panic button to 911 and summoning overburdened police officers, Harris said she decided to trust hotel security.
The ordinance championed by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) at the behest of Unite Here Local 1 would also require hotels to “develop, maintain and comply with a written, anti-sexual harassment policy.”
It would allow the complaining employee to “cease work and leave the immediate area where danger is perceived” until hotel security personnel or police arrive, and sexually harassed employees would be allowed to work on a different floor until the offending guest checks out of the hotel.
Hotels would be required to have the written sexual harassment policy in place 60 days after a final City Council vote on the ordinance, and they would have until July 1, 2018, to equip hotel employees with panic buttons.
Two violations within one year would be grounds to strip the hotel of its license to do business in Chicago.
Fifty-eight percent of hotel workers surveyed last fall by Unite Here Local 1 reported having been sexually harassed by a guest. Forty-nine percent of hotel housekeepers reported that guests had exposed themselves, flashed them or answered the door naked.
At a committee hearing last week, a 28-year veteran mini-bar attendant at a Chicago hotel who works alone told a harrowing story of knocking on a guest room door, being asked to come in and encountering a man sitting at a computer watching porn and masturbating.
The second regulation would require Chicago hotels to have defibrillators — at least one in every ballroom or banquet hall and another at the main desk — in case guests or employees suffer a heart attack.
Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) championed that mandate in response to three deaths at Chicago hotels.
Burke put the third regulation on hold amid heavy opposition from the hotel industry.
It would have made it a crime for hotels to “fail to monitor and restrict guest access to non-guest areas” by installing “no guest access” signs at non-guest areas, and securing those areas to prevent unauthorized access.
The ordinance was a response to the death of 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins, a Chicagoan whose body was found in a hotel freezer.
Ald. Brendan Reilly called the freezer ordinance an example of well-intended legislative overkill. Jenkins death was the only one of its type at hundreds of Chicago-area hotels, he wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.
Reilly, who’s worked in restaurants and bars, said he knows first-hand that walk-in coolers “do not lock individuals inside.” They can be opened from inside, simply by pressing a large bar inside the door.
Also approved at Wednesday’s Council’s meeting were:
- Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to for a ten-fold increase in the maximum fine levied against “fly-dumpers” who turn vacant lots, streets and sidewalks into dumping grounds to avoid waste disposal costs.
- The $104.7 million sale of a fleet maintenance facility site on prime riverfront land in the North Branch Corridor to mega-developer Sterling Bay, a firm that was not the highest bidder. Some of the proceeds will be used to build a new police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park.
- Acquisition of City Colleges property at 6800 S. Wentworth, where Sterling Bay will build a new city maintenance facility to replace the North Side plant.
- Emanuel’s plan to create affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods — on the Near North and Near West Sides and along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor — despite fears that rents are too high for families to afford and the area covered is too small.
- The down-zoning of the property that once housed the now-shuttered Double Door music venue in Wicker Park over the property owner’s strenuous objections.