Two measures aimed at protecting Baltimore workers amid the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic advanced Monday, after the City Council responded to business concerns and narrowed their scope.
The bills, introduced by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, are intended to improve job security for hotel workers laid off due to Covid and those who work for companies that change hands. Amended versions of both passed after animated debates in the Labor Committee and on the virtual Council floor.
“Folks are really going through it, man,” Burnett told The Brew Tuesday morning. “I wasn’t excited about the amendments and the pushback overall from the Law Department on the idea.”
He said testimony from hotel workers, many of whom had been laid off after decades at their jobs, showed him the urgency and importance of protecting workers in an industry hit hard by the coronavirus.
Both bills were limited by sunset clauses for the end of 2022 and apply to fewer workers than Burnett intended.
Two Days to Decide?
Bill 20-0543, requiring hotels to keep employees after ownership changes, advanced quietly on Monday, after the Labor Committee passed it last Thursday. It will only apply to hotels – not event centers or commercial properties, as Burnett proposed.
But Bill 20-0544, giving laid-off employees the right of recall, faced much tougher opposition.
Several proposed amendments were the subjects of lengthy arguments, including an amendment which would give employees two days instead of five to accept a job offer from a former employer.
“There are members of the Council that you can’t get a call back from in two days,” Councilman Ryan Dorsey said. He said the two-day amendment is “determined to cut people out” and “undermines the spirit of this law.”
“This is not about cutting people out,” said Councilman Costello, who introduced the amendments on behalf of the hotel industry.
Hotel industry groups requested the two-day period. They said businesses need to act quickly as coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Plus, they argued, laid-off workers shouldn’t need that much time to decide whether to come back.
“This is not about cutting people out,” said Councilman Eric Costello, who introduced the amendments on behalf of the hotel industry.
Costello said unexpected executive orders allowing businesses to reopen as Covid conditions improve can mean management has to move quickly to rehire.
“Automatically the light switch is flipped on and they have to act accordingly,” Costello said.
Burnett won the argument, and the Council voted to preserve the five-day window.
But the bill was narrowed by an amendment that excluded hospitals. It would still apply to hotels, event centers and commercial properties.