Hotels Sue to Block San Francisco’s Daily Cleaning Mandate

The Golden Gate Bridge, looking toward San Francisco (Courthouse News photo / Chris Marshall)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Claiming a new city law requiring daily cleanings of hotel rooms will financially strain already struggling businesses, hotel industry groups sued San Francisco in state court Monday.

The lawsuit filed by the Hotel Council of San Francisco, California Hotel & Lodging Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association seeks to block the “Healthy Buildings” ordinance passed by the city’s Board of Supervisors on July 7. The law requires daily cleanings of guest rooms unless a guest specifically requests otherwise.

Rather than making buildings safer, the industry groups say the law will endanger guests and employees by increasing the frequency of cleaning staff in guest rooms, creating more opportunities to catch and spread the Covid-19 virus in a confined space.

“Most of the guidelines we’ve seen and common sense have said that less interaction is less risky,” said Kevin Carroll, CEO of the Hotel Council of San Francisco. “If you are mandating that someone comes into the room to clean it, that creates a higher risk.”

The law also forbids hotels from offering incentives for guests to opt out of daily cleaning. Carroll said that runs counter to the city and hotel industry’s sustainability goals to reduce the use of water and energy required to wash sheets and towels every day.

Aside from mandating daily cleanings of guest rooms, the ordinance also requires hotels and large office buildings to clean and disinfect “high-contact” areas — including lobbies, hallways, restrooms and elevators, multiple times per day.

The industry groups say hotels already have systems in place to make sure common spaces are cleaned in accordance with state, federal and industry health guidelines. San Francisco’s mandate goes beyond what is required by those standards, they argue.

“We have enough guidelines we’ve worked on both locally, statewide and nationally for hotels,” Carroll said. “This ordinance developed through the Board of Supervisors is redundant and isn’t necessary.”

The groups also complain of a provision in the law that requires employees be provided adequate protective gear, including gloves, masks and cleaning equipment. The ordinance forbids hotels from firing or retaliating against workers who complain about health risks or refuse to do work that they feel poses a risk to their health or safety. It empowers workers to sue their employers for $1,000 per violation or actual damages for lost wages and benefits, whichever is higher.

Carroll called this another unnecessary provision because the state already has systems in place for workers to file complaints about unsafe working conditions.

“There’s multiple ways they can do that already,” Carroll said.

Anand Singh, president of the union Unite Here Local 2 that represents hotel workers, said stronger standards are necessary. He cited an outbreak that infected 22 workers and their families after hotels reopened in Las Vegas without adequate standards in place.

“We don’t think any traveler wants to hear that San Francisco hotels are trying to lower their cleaning standards right now,” Singh said, adding that hotels have walked away from discussions with employees about health and safety protocols like personal protective equipment and testing.

A statement by the hotel groups Monday claimed the ordinance “serves the selfish interests of a union with no consideration of the employee harm it mandates.”

The industry groups estimate the law will cost San Francisco’s 215 hotels $220,000 each on average, adding up to $47 million per year. That’s on top of an extra $498,000 that an average 250-room hotel will incur to adopt “the best practices for cleaning and social distancing” as recommended by the state, federal and industry guidelines, according to the groups.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin spearheaded the push to pass the “Healthy Buildings” law, arguing it was necessary to recharge the city’s tourism industry and give visitors confidence that San Francisco is a safe place to visit.

Peskin said the law would “send a message to the country and our world that San Francisco is at the forefront of having the safest, cleanest Covid-19-free hotel rooms in the United States of America” during a July 7 meeting.

Peskin’s office declined to comment Monday because it had not yet seen the lawsuit.

San Francisco City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Coté said his office would “review the lawsuit once we’ve actually been served with it, and we’ll address it in court.”

San Francisco hotels cannot host regular guests at this time. They will remain closed to tourists until the city starts Phase 3 of its reopening plan, currently scheduled to start sometime in August. The city is still in the early stages of Phase 2 after delaying the reopening of certain businesses, including hair salons and museums, that were supposed to reopen on June 29. Some hotels are currently contracting with the city to provide rooms for homeless people and essential workers.

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