A San Diego ordinance passed during the pandemic to help hospitality industry workers who were laid off as business slowed has garnered support from California's top lawyer, though it is being challenged by one San Diego industry.
In Sept. 2020, the San Diego City Council passed the "right to return" ordinance, which stated that hotels with 200 rooms or more were required to notify more senior workers who had been laid off from their jobs about job openings first. Those workers would then have 3 days to decide whether or not they wanted to accept the job.
The city council voted to extend the ordinance for another year in March 2021.
"The goal is to give people a chance to get their jobs back and to reestablish the careers they had been in for a long time before the pandemic hit," said Council Member Marni von Wilpert from District 5.
San Diego tourism is the second biggest employer in the region according to SANDAG and accounted for 37% of the job losses during the pandemic. San Diego Tourism Authority says the industry won't return to pre-pandemic levels until approximately 2024. Von Wilpert says it's imperative that ordinances like "right to return" are passed to protect hotel workers and revitalize the industry.
On Thursday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an amicus brief in support of the ordinance. The brief urges the court to side with the city of San Diego in a lawsuit filed by the San Diego County Lodging Association.
The San Diego Lodging Association, however, doesn't support the ordinance. They have sued the city saying it violates the state and federal constitution by readjusting the rights of the employer under existing employment contracts.
"The San Diego County Lodging Association continues to maintain that the Right to Recall ordinance passed by the City of San Diego is unconstitutional. They look forward to receiving a determination by the Court on this issue," said Namara Mercer, Executive Director of the San Diego Lodging Association in a statement to NBC 7.
Some hotel managers have even said the ordinance is unnecessary because they are having problems finding workers to fill their job openings.
"We have a deficit of employees, we've called on every single one of our employees, we've asked every single one of them to return, said Evan Lai, president of the Ocean Park Inn Hotel. "In fact, we're putting in hiring incentives to hire people because we are lacking."
But some hotel workers, like Orfa Ortiz, who has been working as a banquet server in San Diego hotels for 17 years, say they feel the ordinance was necessary for them to keep their jobs.
"Because the hotel fired everybody and maybe they wanted to clean house and just start with new people," Ortiz said. "So all the senior, seniority people pretty much didn't have a job to go back to."
In Attorney General Rob Bonta's statement supporting the "right to return" ordinance, he says California supports local laws that mitigate the economic impact of an unprecedented public health crisis on workers at the margins.
“The hard truth is: workers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic are overwhelmingly people of color, immigrants, and women,” Bonta said in a written statement. “The people who have been hit first and hit the hardest by this pandemic shouldn’t have to start from scratch. They deserve a fair shot at making a living."