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October 18, 2020

City Council introduces legislation aimed at protecting laid off hospitality workers

Employment in the hospitality industry in Philly has dropped by 53 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic

Government Legislation
philadelphia city council legislation Kate Frese/For PhillyVoice

The three pieces of proposed legislation by City Council would protect workers displaced by the public health crisis so they can return to their jobs once they become available again.

As millions of workers remain unemployed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia City Council is seeking to pass a number of measures that will specifically help those who lost their jobs in the hospitality and leisure industries.

Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kenyatta Johnson, and Isaiah Thomas have introduced a package of bills, called “Right to Return” legislation, which would help retain hospitality and leisure jobs for laid off workers and ensure that both industries are staffed by experienced employees.

The three pieces of proposed legislation would help protect workers displaced by the public health crisis so they can return to their jobs once they become available again. It would also help prevent discrimination in rehiring, investors from replacing experienced workers, and retaliation by employers.

Councilmember Gym’s bill would require hotels, event centers, and Philadelphia International Airport to offer jobs back, based upon seniority, to previously-employed workers who lost their positions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This Right to Return legislation secures economic justice for thousands of Philadelphia’s workers in the hospitality industry,” Gym said. “As our economy reopens, it must be our top priority to protect the jobs of thousands of working class Black and Brown Philadelphians that their families depend on. Studies have shown that Black workers are often first fired, and last hired. That will not stand in our City. We can build an economic recovery that starts with the wellbeing of workers and their families.”

Councilmember Johnson’s bill would reform an existing law to ensure that seasonal workers at the Sports Complex and food service workers at the airport are not replaced in the event that a new contractor takes over services at their workplace.

“The three bills being introduced by my Council colleagues are common sense protections for workers in industries that have been devastated by COVID-19,” Johnson said. “All Philadelphia hotels are experiencing lower than normal occupancy rates."

"Sports stadiums have not been able to have fans attend events for months and thousands of people have been laid off at the Airport. We owe it to our working families in Philadelphia to make sure that they have an opportunity to be treated fairly by employers as the economy slowly reopens.”

Councilmember Thomas’ bill would protect workers’ jobs in the event that a hotel is sold or undergoes a foreclosure.

“This pandemic has hurt our local and national economy with many industries looking at months if not years of financial hardship — the hospitality industry being one of the most economically impacted sectors,” Thomas said. “These revenue shortfalls have caused historic rates of furloughs and unemployment, seen most common in Black women, as they make up much of this industry's labor force."

"As the hotel industry makes changes to recoup their losses and reimagine how they do business, Philadelphia is here to support but also here to protect these workers. Our legislation would ensure that workers may keep their jobs, regardless of how the industry restructures because a safe and experienced workforce is good for the hotel industry, it's good for the labor force and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

Only half of the 7.5 million hospitality and leisure jobs that were eliminated in April have come back, according to the three council members. 

The national unemployment rate among hospitality and leisure workers was at 19% in September, the highest level of all industries measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and more than double the national unemployment average.

Employment in the hospitality industry in Philly has dropped by 53 percent, according to the three council members. Those employed in the sector are disproportionately Black and female. More than 70% of Philly hotel employees are people of color, with the vast majority being women.

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