Jenny Wu, a hotel worker and Unite Here Local 8 member in Seattle. Photo by Hannah Long-Higgins

Judge Upholds Seattle’s Hotel Worker Law

In December, three hotel associations sued over I-124. A ruling released Friday keeps it intact.

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick issued a ruling Friday that entirely upholds and affirms the Seattle Hotel Employees Health and Safety Initiative, a new law that Seattle voters approved in November. Initiative 124 was designed to protect hotel workers against workplace injury and sexual harassment, and includes other provisions such as a health care stipend for low-income workers and job protection if a hotel is sold to a new owner.

In December, a trio of hospitality industry associations, incuding the Seattle Hotel Association, sued the city over the law. During a late-March hearing on the case, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued against it for two main reasons. One: It misled voters by carrying too many disparate pieces of legislation under one roof. Two: It established what hotel-industry plaintiffs are calling a “blacklist” by requiring hotels to keep ongoing lists of guests whom their workers accuse of sexual harassment or assault. This so-called blacklist unequivocally violates the due process and privacy rights of hotel guests, the plantiffs argued.

If Judge Erlick had agreed with them, that part of the law could have been severed, with the rest of the law remaining intact. But on Friday, he ruled that the hotel associations do not have legal standing to file suit on behalf of a potential violation of a hotel guest’s due process or privacy rights because, among other reasons, there are no guests so far who have been so damaged. “Without knowing how many, if any, guests will be on this list or even how many potential guests will be excluded from Seattle hotels each year, the threatened injury is not immediate, concrete, or specific enough to satisfy this prong” of the complaint, he wrote.

Erlick also ruled that the law does not violate the Seattle City Charter’s “single-subject rule” for ballot initiatives because “all of the provisions are rationally related to the single subject of health, safety, and labor conditions for hotel employees.”

“The City Attorney’s Office is proud to defend the voters’ choice to protect hotel workers and is very pleased with the court’s well-reasoned and thorough opinion upholding the will of the voters,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a press release. “The court acknowledged that hotel workers were ‘some of Seattle’s most vulnerable employees,’ and the voters’ decision to protect these workers was consistent with both the federal and state constitutions.”

Abby Lawlor, a staffer with the union Unite Here Local 8 who led the campaign for I-124, says she and her colleagues are “really excited” about the ruling. “It’s a huge victory for hotel workers and all of the voters who voted for the initiative back in November,” she says. “I think it was clear in the judge’s decision that he agreed that this was a very vulnerable group of workers and that these were necessary protections—and the importance of that overcame any of the industry’s objections about the impact that might have on businesses and on guests. The message that prioritizing the health and safety of these workers was important was really good to hear from the court today.”

In a statement, the Seattle Hotel Association did not confirm or deny that it would appeal the decision. “We’ll continue to evaluate our options,” the statement reads. “We know that working together is a more effective means to address the issues put forth in this initiative. In the future, hoteliers look forward to having a seat at the table before initiatives impacting our industry are designed and passed. With a spirit of collaboration, we’ll continue to focus on our commitment to fostering a safe and vibrant environment in Seattle for our employees and guests.”

sbernard@seattleweekly.com

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