Assembly ordinance would limit hotels' ability to hire, lay off employees

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: Sep. 15, 2020 at 6:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Granting union benefits, without the union. That’s what critics are saying about an ordinance being considered by the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night that would require hotels to follow specific hiring and firing practices.

Sponsors and supporters of the ordinance argue it’s designed to protect jobs while the hotel industry goes through the pandemic.

“Really it’s to create some amount of stability for the employees who right now, they don’t know, six months down the line, if their hotel is going to change hands,” said Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, one of the sponsors.

Under the ordinance, if a hotel does change hands due to the pandemic, and it has more than 100 rooms, employees would get to keep their jobs during a short grace period. The rehiring of employees for those same kinds of hotels would also be based on seniority. The latest version of the ordinance would require employers to wait seven days before offering a job to a new applicant.

Supporters, like the Anchorage hotel workers union Local 878, see it as a compliment to $21.5 million in CARES Act funds set aside by the assembly to aid the tourism and hospitality industries.

“The assembly has a responsibility to look out for its constituents, and I think there’s a major disparity in all the assistance that’s been out for corporations, and very little out for workers,” said Marvin Jones, president of the Local 878.

But the president of the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association pointed out that money hasn’t made its way to hotels yet, and even when it does, she expects the industry to still be in trouble with the Winter coming on after a slow Summer. She added it’s common practice for hotels to rehire employees when financially viable, and hotels changing owners due to the pandemic isn’t something she’s seeing a lot of in Anchorage.

“There have been a few that were sold before COVID, there were a few that were listed for sale before the pandemic that have recently sold, but none of that had to do with the current pandemic,” she said.

Beyond that, managers and owners of hotels are largely against the ordinance. General manager of the Staybridge Suites Tammy Griffin said the rehiring process laid out in the ordinance is overcomplicated and doesn’t work logistically.

“An example would be, a restaurant can open to a certain percentage,” Griffin said. “We get the word on Friday, and then on Monday, we need staff, and how are we going to do that if we have to wait [seven] days for employees to say yes or no?”

Assemblymember John Weddleton has offered amendments to try and address some of those issues, but he added he’s still concerned about the precedent this would set and would be hard-pressed to vote yes at this point.

“We should stay out of the way businesses operate,” he said. “Every business is different, and we need to stay out and let them operate the best they can.”

The ordinance will be up for public hearing at the Assembly’s September 15th meeting, followed by amendments and a possible vote.

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