Seattle Ballot Initiative Targets Hotel Industry

Update: On November 8, 2016, Seattle voters approved this ballot initiative. 

According to Ballotpedia, 140 state ballot initiatives in 35 states have already been certified for the November 8, 2016 election. This number does not include the many city-wide measures that will be before voters on Election Day. These ballot questions touch on a variety of topics, including raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and mandating paid sick leave. Among these measures is Seattle Initiative 124, which would impose new and significant health and safety, healthcare, and hiring requirements on the City’s hotel industry.

The terms of Initiative 124, the Seattle Hotel Employees Health and Safety Initiative, are expansive. Among other provisions, this measure would require hotel employers to:

  • Institute protections regarding sexual assault and harassment. Such measures include providing panic buttons to employees who are involved with in-room services; maintaining records of guests staff members have accused of sexual assault or harassment, and preventing them from patronizing the hotel for at least three years; and posting information about these protections.
  • Take steps to prevent on-the-job injury. These efforts include limiting housekeeping staff to cleaning no more than 5,000 square feet of hotel space per eight-hour shift. Employees that exceed that limit would be entitled to time-and-a-half pay for the entire shift.
  • Offset the cost of health insurance. With certain exceptions, large hotels (those with 100 or more guest rooms) would have to pay each full-time, low-wage employee (those earning 400% or less than the poverty line for the employee’s household size) the greater of either $200 per month or the difference between (a) the monthly premium for the lowest-cost, gold-level policy available on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange and (b) 7.5% of the amount by which the employee’s compensation for the previous month exceeds 100% of the federal poverty line. Employers would not have to pay this extra amount if they already provide their employees with a specified level of health benefits.
  • Retain workers in the event of a change in ownership. Following a sale or change in ownership, the successor would be required to hire existing employees, and maintain their employment for at least 90 days.

Notably, the initiative includes a carve-out for unionized workforces. All terms of the initiative except those pertaining to assault protections could be waived through collective bargaining agreements. Other problems with this initiative the hotel industry has flagged include the fact that a guest could be blacklisted after simply being accused of harassment, and the one-size-fits-all approach to regulating the hotel industry.

Initiative 124—like scores of other ballot measures—will be in the hands of voters on November 8. There are reports that the ordinance is polling favorably among the electorate.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.