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County is state’s first to require panic buttons for hotel workers. Will city follow?

Sacramento County passes protections for hotel workers

Sacramento County approved measure requiring hotels in unincorporated region to provide panic buttons to service workers. Hotels would also be required to have sexual harassment policy.
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Sacramento County approved measure requiring hotels in unincorporated region to provide panic buttons to service workers. Hotels would also be required to have sexual harassment policy.

Hotels in unincorporated Sacramento County will be the first in the state to be required to provide panic buttons to service workers under an ordinance approved by supervisors Tuesday on a 4-1 vote.

As passed, the ordinance would impact the 24 hotels in unincorporated Sacramento County with 25 rooms or more. The city of Sacramento might soon take up a similar measure, with Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Councilman Eric Guerra expressing support for city action. The state will also consider similar protections this legislative session.

“I’m happy about the support for the housekeepers. It’s a hard job and now they are going to be protected,” said Roxana Tapia, an organizer for Unite Here, Local 49, a union representing hotel workers.

The measure was proposed by Supervisor Phil Serna. He said hotel workers deserve special protection because of the unique situation in which females are required to enter men’s rooms as a job requirement.

At the afternoon supervisors’ session, several female service workers through an interpreter told of incidents in which male guests exposed themselves or performed a sex act in their presence.

“It’s such a underreported crime,” said Beth Hassett, executive director of WEAVE.

While the #Metoo movement has mostly highlighted women in media and politics who have been victims of sexual assault, the measure will help protect women who generally keep quiet for many reasons, said Serna.

The ordinance also will require impacted hotels to have a sexual harassment policy on file. The requirement takes effect but the mechanism for enforcement is unclear. Several companies sell a small panic button device that sends an alert to on-site staff.

“I'm grateful that a majority of my colleagues understand just how important these measures are to protect women in the workplace,” Serna said after the vote.

Supervisor Sue Frost was the lone vote against. Frost said she wanted more data or to wait for the state to take action. She questioned why hotel workers were singled out for protection.

“There is sexual harassment everywhere,” Frost said.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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