Could Phoenix City Council vote damage tourism industry?

Business News | 1 Jul |

On Wednesday, July 1st, the Phoenix City Council is scheduled to vote on three proposed City Ordinances — currently called Phoenix Healthy Tourism and Hospitality Measures — that could have unintended and extremely negative consequences on the tourism industry and all hotels with over 150 rooms in Phoenix.

These proposed ordinances were just posted on Friday, June 26 without feedback from the hospitality industry — the very businesses that would be regulated by the ordinances, providing little time for review and analysis of the implications.

The stated purpose of these measures is to address employee health concerns created by the COVID-19 outbreak. We and our colleagues in the hospitality industry share a deep concern for the well-being of our employees and are working diligently to ensure they enjoy a safe work environment. It is critical from both a moral and business standpoint that we take all appropriate actions to make sure they are as safe as possible. 

“From our initial analysis, however, the provisions outlined in these ordinances would create significant business challenges for the hotel industry in Phoenix, resulting in the potential loss of millions of dollars and the closures of properties — without having a positive impact on the health of the work environment or adding protections for our employees,” said Matthew Crow, Managing Director of Grossman Company Properties, which operates a number of hotels in the southwest including the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix. 

Grossman and other companies in the industry are forming the Save Phoenix Tourism Committee to address the overreach of these proposed ordinances. 

For example, the ordinances limit the amount of space that housekeeping employees are allowed to clean during a shift, a move that would result in the need to hire as much as 50 percent more employees at a time when occupancies are down significantly. 

The ordinances would also require each employee to have a six-hour handwashing training. Employers can neither hire nor retain employees who do not take the training and the training is not limited to “hand washing” but can be about other laws at the sole discretion of the trainer.  For comparison, important Federal and State laws that also require certification, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, safety in the workplace, etc. do not mandate minimum hours of trainings and allow employers to self-certify that the training was completed.   

And, employers would be required to wait 10 days before they can offer a position to a new applicant.  A waiting period of 10 days is unacceptable to unemployed individuals desperate to find employment, and can lessen the ability for a potential employee to make rent or pay bills. 

“This language is unnecessary and is beyond the jurisdiction of the City of Phoenix, as Federal and State Wage and Hour laws already prescribe breaks and working hours,” Crow said. “Moreover, the industry was not consulted regarding how many rooms housekeeping staff can maintain during a shift – these requirements are arbitrary are not backed by any science or data related to COVID-19.”

The ordinances would also mandate how companies bring back furloughed employees, instead of allowing employers to assess their own staffing needs based on occupancy and current public health conditions. These mandates also include massive record-keeping requirements that would further drain resources for businesses trying to recover from the pandemic. 

 The hotel industry in Phoenix is variable – with occupancies changing by 50 percent in a matter of days, seasonal and unpredictable shifts, and many bookings made within 24 hours of stays,” said Kim Sabow, President & CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. “Hotels here have always required extreme flexibility in staffing to meet unpredictable business needs, and the rigidity of the proposed ordinance would be damaging to hotels in Phoenix.”

The result would be an unfair playing field where hotels in Phoenix would be operating under one set of restrictive new ordinances that are not dictated by science or data related to COVID-19, while hotels in other Valley and statewide communities would not be subject to such requirements.

The timing could potentially be devastating and puts an extraordinary burden and strain on the tourism industry and its employees while they are fighting to maintain tourism jobs during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Because these ordinances don’t directly impact public health in the workplace in a demonstratable way, there should be no urgency to pass them with just three business days notice,” Sabow said. “The hotel industry should have an opportunity to review and comment on these proposed changes, as should the rest of the Phoenix community.”

Hotels across the country are working with local, state and federal governments to implement best practices in providing safe environments. They spend thousands on PPE and hygiene training already to keep employees and guests safe.  This is not an area where a problem exists that requires City assistance. 

And, interestingly, the requirements of these three ordinances can be waived if a collective bargaining agreement is put into place. This would create another unlevel playing field where some hotels would be operating under a set of rules mandated by the City, and others could make up their own rules. 

“Our ask is a simple one — we are requesting that the City Council remove these ordinances from the July 1 City Council agenda so that there can be more conversation, research and study of their impact,” Crow said. “And, the hotel industry is asking for a seat at the table as ordinances such as these that would dramatically affect the business environment are contemplated.” 

For more information on the issue, visit SavePhoenixTourism.com.

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