The American Hotel & Lodging Association and Unite Here, the largest hospitality workers union in North America, have joined forces to call on Congress to pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act.
The bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), is meant to offer a lifeline to hotel workers until travel returns to prepandemic levels.
The leisure and hospitality industries have lost 3.1 million jobs during the pandemic that have yet to return, representing more than a third of all unemployed persons in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate in the accommodation sector specifically remains 330 percent higher than the rest of the economy. While leisure travel will start returning this summer as more people are vaccinated, business travel—the largest source of hotel revenue—is down 85 percent and is not expected to begin its slow return until the second half of this year. Full recovery is not expected until 2024.
The Save Hotel Jobs Act will provide critical support to hotels and their workers during this crucial period, according to the two groups. Key provisions include supporting hotel workers and allowing worker-friendly tax credits.
Direct payroll grants will be utilized for payroll and benefits expenses for workers. The legislation would also require grantees to give laid-off workers recall rights to ensure those who lost their hotel jobs due to the pandemic are able to get back to work. The act would also provide a personal protective equipment tax credit to promote worker safety measures, which would allow for a payroll tax credit for 50 percent of costs associated with the purchase of personal protective equipment, technology designed to reduce the impact of the pandemic, increased testing for employees and enhanced cleaning protocols that do not negatively impact the level of work for housekeeping staff.
According to the AHLA and Unite Here, empty or permanently closed hotels have a ripple effect on communities throughout the country, hurting a wide range of businesses that rely on the presence of hotel guests, such as restaurants and retail, hotel supply companies and construction. For every 10 people directly employed on a hotel property, hotels also support an additional 26 jobs in the community, according to a study by Oxford Economics. With hotels expected to end 2021 down 500,000 jobs, based on the pre-pandemic ratio, an additional 1.3 million hotel supported jobs are in jeopardy this year without additional support from Congress, they said.
Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the AHLA, applauded Schatz and Crist for introducing the legislation. “It is not a surprise to anyone that our industry continues to struggle, even as the country begins to emerge out of the worst part of the pandemic,” he said during a press conference with Taylor and Crist. “We were hit first, we were hit worst, and the experts say that in our industry, in particular, full recovery to 2019 levels is not expected to happen until the end of 2023.”
Government-issued travel bans and restrictions have slowed the spread of the virus, but also have wiped out 10 years of job growth in the industry, Rogers said. Supporting hotel workers would also support hotel owners, he added, since “you don't have a business if you don't have workers.”
D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, which represents more than 300,000 employees, agreed. “No industry has been more impacted by COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “At one point, 98 percent of the people we represent in hotels, casinos and food service were out of work.” Even today, he said, between 60 and 70 percent of the unions members are unemployed or underemployed.
The Save Hotel Jobs Act, he added, is not a handout: “This is a way to have a bridge so folks can get paid, have jobs and pray for when that business travel returns. 100 percent of the funds provided to the hotels will be about payroll and jobs. That's a wonderful thing.”
Taylor acknowledged the collaboration between a union and AHLA is “pretty weird,” but said the partnership is like a marriage: “You don't always get along, but you're married, and we want to have a strong relationship,” he said. “It's the livelihood of the industry, which means the livelihood of the workers I represent, and so many thousands more who work in the hotel industry.”
Rogers said there was “not an ounce of daylight” between the two organizations when it came to supporting hotel workers. “We are all 100 percent united on this, and this is why this legislation is so important,” he said. The partnership should send “a loud, powerful message to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that can't be ignored,” he added.
Crist, for his part, noted the number of partisan issues in Washington and celebrated the partnership between the AHLA and Unite Here as a bipartisan collaboration to help a wide range of workers. He cited the 2009 stimulus promoted by President Barack Obama as a similar act of bipartisan support. “It's important that we remember back to those times,” he said. “The country still can come together to do what's right for this industry and the American people.” Tourism is vital to his constituents in Florida, he said, but keeping them safe is also a significant responsibility. “Hopefully this legislation—and others—will bring to bear the appreciation that the hotel industry has in the Sunshine State, how much we care about it [and] how much we need it.”
This crisis has been especially devastating in urban areas, hurting minority communities and women, who make up a large number of hospitality workers, Taylor noted. Urban hotels, which are more reliant on business and group travel and more likely to host larger events, ended January down 66 percent in room revenue compared to last year, not including lost revenue from groups, meetings and food and beverage, which contribute significantly to business in these markets. According to recent reports, New York City has seen one-third of its hotel rooms—more than 42,000—wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 200 hotels closing permanently in the city.
The act, then, is “a smart insurance policy” for both the industry and the workers, Taylor said. “Candidly, though the unemployment rate nationally is [about] 6.2, in this industry it's well well into the double digits.” Jobs, he added, “should not be a partisan issue.”
“The pandemic has left millions of hotel employees out of work and many more struggling to get by with less hours. They need help,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our bill creates a new grant program that will bring back hotel jobs, pay workers and help our economy recover.”