Hotel Workers in Sacramento Getting Panic Buttons to Combat Sexual Assault, Harassment

By July 14, all hotels will be required to give housekeepers buttons at no cost to the employees. "It happens almost every day," Maria Melgoza told the city council, referring to sexual harassment.

The Sacramento Bee

By Theresa Clift

SACRAMENTO -- All 80 hotels in the city of Sacramento will soon be required to provide "panic buttons" to protect workers from sexual assault and harassment, under an ordinance the City Council approved Tuesday.

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The vote comes nearly two years after Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved a similar ordinance that did not include hotels in city limits.

By July 14, all hotels will be required to give housekeepers buttons at no cost to the employees, according to a city staff report. Workers will be able to press the buttons if they are about to witness an act of sexual harassment, such as masturbation or someone exposing themselves. The buttons send a signal to on-site staff to intervene immediately.

Maria Melgoza has been waiting for the hotel where she works as a housekeeper to give workers panic buttons for more than six years, since she started working there, she said. She did not identify the hotel where she works.

"It happens almost every day," Melgoza, 71, of Elk Grove, told the council, referring to sexual harassment. "If I had that ... they would notice something happen to me. But I don't have nothing."

Some hotels in the city already have panic buttons, according to a news release from Councilman Eric Guerra, who has been working to pass the ordinance. But many do not.

"This ordinance ensures a safe working environment for our hotel employees while providing a welcoming experience for Sacramento visitors," Guerra said in the release.

Nuri Rubio, an organizer for Unite Here, Local 49, a union representing hotel workers, asked the city to inform hotel guests that workers are carrying the devices.

If guests are aware workers have been provided panic buttons, it may prevent our guests from acting this way in the first place," Rubio said.

The City Council's Law and Legislation Committee originally discussed the ordinance in June, but it did not come to the City Council for the final vote until about seven months later.

City Director of Government Affairs Consuelo Hernandez said the ordinance was going through the normal process, including meetings with stakeholders, language revisions and staff approvals.

The ordinance was originally only going to apply to the roughly 60 hotels in the city with more than 25 rooms, but then was expanded to all hotels.

The county's version applies only to hotels with more than 25 rooms. The county had 24 of those when it passed its ordinance in February 2018.

New York, Chicago, Seattle and Miami Beach, Fla., also require panic buttons or similar devices, the staff report said.

City hotels that do not provide panic buttons by the deadline could be fined $250 to $25,000 per day for each day the violation continues, the staff report said.

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