Days before a ballot measure forcing pay and benefit requirements on Long Beach's largest hotels is set to go into effect, one hotel is cutting back on rooms and laying off workers.
Best Western Golden Sails Hotel on Dec. 10 posted a notice for employees, which was obtained by the Press-Telegram, stating that "all employees will be considered terminated after their last shift of duty on or before Dec. 15."
The memo, sent by Golden Sails General Manager Mathew Daniel, also says that the hotel has been running "with a low room occupancy for the last few years and (we) have been thinking all these years to downsize the hotel with fewer rooms to stay in business."
It goes on to say that "the time has come now and we have reduced the size of the hotel."
The memo doesn't say whether the downsizing will bring the hotel at 6258 E. Pacific Coast Highway under the Measure N wage law's 100-room threshold.
Daniel didn't return calls for comment Thursday or Friday.
The memo does state that "most" of the employees would be rehired by an unnamed "new corporation," and that those who were not rehired would receive from Long Beach Golden Sails Inc. $1,000 in severance pay, so long as those employees "sign a waiver of claims."
Outraged and emotional employees and community activists gathered at the hotel on Friday for a brief press conference. They said six employees have already been fired, with another 74 expected to be terminated today.
They also attempted to speak with Daniel, who did allow them inside the hotel, but wouldn't discuss the termination of employees, according to Leigh Shelton, spokeswoman for Unite Here 11, the labor activist group that helped get Measure N passed in November.
"This is devastating," Shelton said. "We really want to send a strong message to the hotel community that this is not OK. Hotels that don't abide by this pay increase are undermining democracy."
Passing with 64.3 percent of the vote, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder, the so-called living wage initiative goes into effect next Friday and will require Long Beach hotels with 100 rooms or more to pay employees at least $13 an hour.
California's minimum wage is $8.
The initiative requires that service charges are remitted to appropriate employees, gives a minimum of five paid sick days per year to full-time workers and pay an automatic 2 percent annual raise to employees.
Measure N also includes a provision that drops wage mandates if hotels agree to enter into collective bargaining with employees. Some critics of the measure have called it a blatant move to unionize downtown hotels.
At the press conference, Maria Malagon, a housekeeper for six years at Best Western Golden Sails, said she was fired Friday. She said she was ecstatic when Measure N passed, as it would be the first time she made over $8 an hour.
"Now I am overcome with sadness," she said. "I have been a loyal employee, but still with almost no notice, the Best Western threw me out, leaving me with no way to feed my family right before Christmas. This is unfair, and we are going to fight to win our jobs back."
Community activists, clergy and elected officials, including Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, are planning to join with hotel workers and Unite Here Local 11 members today for an 8 a.m. protest at the Best Western Golden Sails Hotel, organizers said.
Supporters of Measure N also expressed concern Tuesday at a City Council meeting that hoteliers are searching for ways around the law's provisions, including eliminating rooms to stay under the 100-room mandate.
Another hotel coming under fire is Hotel Current at 5325 E. Pacific Coast Highway, which is facing criticism from community members after its website showed that it has eliminated 44 rooms, dropping the hotel from 143 rooms to 99 rooms, one room shy of having to comply with Measure N.
But Hotel Current general manager Sheri Blackwood said plans to cut 44 standard rooms and go with 99 "lifestyle" rooms have been in the works for two years.
"We renovated 99 lifestyle rooms two years ago and have always wanted to use the back building, which housed the 44 standard rooms for other uses," she said. "We needed to change this space to meet the needs and wants of our guests - we have no breakfast room or workout facility."
Blackwood said the change went into effect Dec. 1, but that the hotel stopped selling contracts for the 44 standard rooms one year ago.