Terranea Resort, in Rancho Palos Verdes, took several steps recently to improve the safety of its roughly 1,200 hotel workers just weeks before voters will decide on a ballot measure that aims to strengthen hospitality employee protections.
The resort recently introduced a new brand of personal protection devices — also called panic buttons — that enable housekeepers and other workers who have direct contact with guests to activate a silent alarm if they find themselves in a threatening situation. The resort also provided self-defense and sexual-harassment training.
Rancho Palos Verdes voters, meanwhile, will decide whether to approve Measure B during the Nov. 5 election. That ballot measure, sponsored by the labor union Unite Here Local 11, would require large hotels and other hospitality establishments to have a $15 minimum wage, with a $1 per hour increase in salary each year until 2022.
It also would require hotels to have panic buttons, keep detailed employment records and obtain written permission from employees before exceeding a cap on hours worked in a day.
The law would apply to resorts with 50 or more employees, which, in Rancho Palos Verdes, amounts only to Terranea and Trump National Golf Club — and the latter doesn’t have a hotel.
Long Beach voters passed a similar ballot measure, also sponsored by Local 11, in November 2018.
Terranea Resort President Terri Haack said this week the new personal protection alarms and the self-defense training, offered in a single presentation last week, was not about the upcoming ballot measure, which the hotel opposes. Rather, she said, it was part of the hotel’s continual efforts to improve workers’ safety at the resort, which sits on 102 acres on the Palos Verdes clifftops.
“We equipped our staff with a safety system since we opened in 2009,” Haack said. “Every employee knew how to report any incident. Periodically over the past 10 years, we’ve upgraded that system.”
Unite Here Local 11 spokeswoman Lorena Lopez, however, said the resort’s recent self-defense training showed “how detached from reality” hotel management was. The power dynamics between guests and workers at hotels are difficult to overcome, she said.
“The minute they touch a guest, who are they going to believe?” Lopez said. “Even if it’s self-defense, they are not going to believe a housekeeper.”
Measure B, Lopez added, would go a lot further in protecting workers at the resort than what management has recently instituted.
“There is no assurance that what they have provided (at Terranea) has the safety mechanisms that Measure B is requiring,” Lopez said. “Measure B will require the employer to allow workers to call the police or a counselor in case of an incident of sexual assault. It will require the hotel to educate guests about the law and protections about retaliation.”
Terranea Resort was not aware of any sexual assault that’s taken place at the resort in the past 10 years, aside from one case that only came to the resort’s attention after a lawsuit was filed, Haack said. If the resort did become aware of a sexual assault, Haack said, it would report it to police.
But Lopez disputed that notion, saying the union has heard reports of a handful of sexual assaults that occurred at the hotel. In October 2018, eight women who worked at Terranea came forward in a press conference, saying they were victims of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct, and that both workers and guests have been perpetrators. Together with the union and several women’s groups, they called for a boycott of the resort.
In 2017, Haack said, one of those women, a former dishwasher at Terranea, sued the resort and the staffing agency that employed her, arguing a supervisor sexually assaulted and harassed her, and then retaliated against her by cutting her hours. Terranea no longer contracts with that company, Haack said.
Haack also said resort officials only heard of the sexual harassment allegation when Terranea was added to the case in 2017. The lawsuit itself, though, said the woman reported the incident to Terranea management when she was still employed; the case was ultimately settled without Terranea participating in the financial agreement, said Lauren Teukolsky, the attorney who handled the case on behalf of the plaintiff, Sandra Pezqueda.
An official at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Lomita Station said she could not provide records related to reports of sexual assault at the resort; she said a formal public records request would need to be submitted.
As for Measure B, Haack said it could hurt workers by taking away their ability to clock overtime. The resort, she said, already pays at least $15 per hour.
“I think Measure B was a desperate attempt to bully me into signing a neutrality agreement,” Haack said. “There is a line in this measure that says if we’re covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the hotel doesn’t have to abide by certain provisions of this measure.”
In the months leading up to the November 2018 election, opponents of Long Beach’s Measure WW expressed similar concerns. Long Beach’s measure — which passed, despite the city council there approving its own panic button law a couple of weeks before — also allowed for exceptions that are included in collective-bargaining agreements.
“If this measure was truly about safety, we would not be opposed,” Long Beach Chamber of Commerce President Randy Gordon and business owner Mike Murchison wrote in the official argument against WW. “Unfortunately, it is a deeply burdensome arbitrary workplace regulation hiding behind ‘safety’ as a cynical attempt to trick voters.”
Local 11 also tried to get Measure B on Rancho Palos Verdes’ ballot in November 2018. In June of that year, the union and backers of the measure sued the city, accusing the City Clerk of delaying certification of the measure.
But two months later, a superior court judge backed the city’s position that the vote should take place this year instead.
Terranea, meanwhile, has formed two political action committees to oppose the measure as the union has mobilized its forces to support it. The five City Council candidates vying for three seats and Rancho Palos Verdes’ current council unanimously oppose the ballot measure.
City Councilmember Ken Dyda, who’s running for re-election in November, said he viewed the ballot measure as an end-around to the National Labor Relations Board process to create a union. Unite Here Local 11 has been actively pursuing an organizing effort at the resort for at least the past two years, Haack said.
In April, the resort settled for $2.15 million a lawsuit, brought by attorneys working for the union, that argued the resort failed to pay workers overtime and in some cases forced workers to falsify time cards showing they took meal breaks, among other claims. The resort denied those allegations.
Since then, however, Terranea has invited the union to hold a secret ballot election, which could authorize the organization of workers. But the union has refused to do that. Instead, it wants to use a “card check system” where a simple majority of workers can secretly sign authorization forms to create a collective-bargaining unit.
The hotel has not agreed to allow that.
Dyda said Measure B’s provisions could prove problematic for Rancho Palos Verdes. Grievances regarding overtime pay, for example, could end up involving city officials, he added.
“The city has no business in doing all of that,” he said. “This is not government’s work.”