In summary

Hotel and travel businesses will have to rehire by seniority. Oakland is the latest city to pass a “right to recall” ordinance, following San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Oakland City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday that guarantees laid off hotel and airport workers priority should their former employers start hiring again.

“This will ensure that those who have dedicated their lives to these companies will get first offer,” said councilmember Sheng Thao, who introduced the ordinance.

Regulated hotel and travel industries will be required to rehire laid off employees by seniority once they are ready to start hiring back. The legislation will affect more than 10,000 Oakland workers, according to a press release from Thao’s administration.

“These are not 10,000 workers,” said Safi Gami, a former Oakland Marriott employee. “They’re 10,000 families.”

Oakland is the latest city in California to pass a “right to recall” ordinance, following San Francisco and Los Angeles. A number of labor organizations are now pushing for statewide legislation.

Thao, as well as residents and advocates at Tuesday’s meeting, pointed to the racial implications of the legislation: Black and Latina women have lost jobs at a rate three times higher than that of white men during the pandemic, with the leisure and hospitality industry suffering the most job losses, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.

“Many of these workers are women, immigrants, and people of color,” said Thao.

The measure excludes restaurants with fewer than 500 employees to make sure small businesses are not “unduly burdened,” according to Councilmember Dan Kalb, although some labor organizers have criticized the lack of protection for restaurant employees.

“This will protect workers in large chain restaurants such as Burger King while allowing small independent restaurants more flexibility to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Thao.

The ordinance, set to take effect on August 15, will come back to the council next week for final passage. Enforcement will fall within the duties of the city’s Department of Workplace and Employment Standards.

“If they’re out of work and they’re available,” said councilmember Kab, “they should get first dibs.”

Laurence Du Sault is a reporter with The Mercury News. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California. 

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Laurence Du Sault covers inequality and the income gap for The Mercury News as part of CalMatters' California Divide collaboration. She has reported on child welfare and police misconduct at the Investigative...