UPDATE: San Jose approves policy to rehire laid-off workers
Joslin Morrison stands in front of other hospitality workers advocating for a Return Together law on March 16. Photo courtesy of Sarah McDermott.

A local labor-led ordinance will capitalize on a new state right-to-work law for the hospitality industry.

The council unanimously approved a so-called “Return Together” ordinance, which mandates San Jose employers in the hospitality industry to rehire hotel and event workers, janitors and airport workers, among others, when they reopen. Priority will be given based on how long those individuals have worked for the employer.

The ordinance will go into effect right away. It will sunset on Dec. 31, 2024 to run concurrently with the state law.

The idea, elected leaders said, is to ensure hospitality workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic return to work when the city’s COVID-19 emergency declaration lifts. The policy will also accommodate an employee’s schedule should they be forced to use sick leave to care for another person.

“It’s very, very important for me to go back to work,” said Alma Navarro, a worker at the recently-forclosed Fairmont Hotel for 33 years, at Tuesday’s meeting. The downtown San Jose hotel’s foreclosure caused Navarro and her coworkers to lose their jobs. “I would really like to go back to what I consider a normal life and stop worrying about losing my house. You would change my life and the lives of many families.”

Return Together adds on to the state’s Senate Bill 93, approved in April, which requires employers statewide to offer jobs to more than 700,000 hospitality workers laid off due to the pandemic within five days after reopening the position. Former employees have an additional five days to accept or reject employment.

The city will also require workers to provide notice to their employer if they wish to file suit relating to the state’s law. The employer will have 15 days to correct the violation.

“This past year has been tremendously difficult in this industry,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, who proposed the policy in March along with fellow Councilmembers David Cohen and Sergio Jimenez. “The lingering effect here with our service industry is going to be continually felt throughout this year.”

Local unions and hospitality workers have been in favor of the Return Together proposal, holding a rally outside City Hall in March and sending mass emails to the council in hopes of passing it.

“As we progress toward fully reopening our economy, it’s critical that we maintain our focus on equity,” said Jean Cohen, the executive officer of the South Bay Labor Council.

Cities and counties are allowed to apply stricter local regulations to the state’s law. The policy will expire in 2024 alongside SB 93 unless extended.

Cities such as Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco have passed similar legislation. Last year, San Jose Assemblymember Ash Kalra introduced another right-to-return proposal, Assembly Bill 3216, which made it through the state Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

According to a 2021 report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, nearly 4 million U.S. hospitality jobs were lost in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

DoubleTree Hotel worker Dolores Dominguez, who was laid off during the pandemic, said her employer has agreed to the recall language — even before San Jose or the state passed a policy.

She’s thankful the city will do the same for all of her fellow hospitality workers.

“I want all hospitality workers to have the same peace of mind,” Dominguez said.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at llo[email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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