Proposed ordinance seeks to protect hotel worker jobs during pandemic

Only hotels with 100 or more rooms would be affected
Anchorage is home to 35 hotels with 100 or more rooms, including the Sheraton Anchorage downtown.
Anchorage is home to 35 hotels with 100 or more rooms, including the Sheraton Anchorage downtown.(Matt Leseman)
Published: Aug. 15, 2020 at 9:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The tourism industry in Anchorage has been hit hard by the pandemic. From local tour companies to the massive hotels around the city, the sharp drop in visitors has hurt businesses and their employees.

As part of an effort to relieve some of the pressure on the industry, the Anchorage Assembly has allocated $14.1 million of the Municipality’s CARES funds to go towards relief grants for businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries. While the debate about whether that’s enough is ongoing, some Assembly members are looking at other ways to help people in those industries.

One such way is an ordinance from Assembly Chair Felix Rivera and member Forrest Dunbar which would offer protections and some hiring preferences for hotel workers during the pandemic.

“This ordinance creates right-to-recall and worker-retention provisions for hotels with 100 rooms or more,” Rivera said.

Anchorage is home to 35 hotels that meet that criteria. Under the proposed ordinance, workers laid off due to the pandemic would stay in contact with the hotels, and would receive offers for any openings that are either similar to their old jobs or would require the same amount of training for a new employee.

The ordinance also contains language to protect workers for 90 days when a large hotel undergoes a transition in ownership, something Rivera said he’s expecting to see more of in the coming months.

“In Anchorage and in other areas where tourism is a large part of the economy, hotels have been going into default, some have been going into foreclosure,” he said.

The ordinance came in part from suggestions from the local hotel workers union. The president, Marvin Jones said it would protect local workers from being replaced during a transition, something he’s seen happen in the past.

“An owner could come in and come in with a whole different staff, and there’s nothing protecting you for all the years, the decades that you have invested in this company to make it successful, and now you’re out of work,” he said.

At an Assembly work session Friday, Jones spoke with Assembly members in support of the ordinance. Rivera said he spoke with roughly 30 of the 35 hotels this ordinance would affect. Some of them listened in, but did not offer comments verbally or through email.

“I would really like to hear from members of the industry before we vote on this on the 25th,” he said.

KTUU reached out to several hotels about the ordinance, as well as the Alaska Cabaret Hotel, Restaurant, and Retailers' Association for comment, but did not receive a response by deadline.

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