San Francisco tourists keep coming back, but hotel workers usually don’t

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San Francisco’s beleaguered tourism industry received good news as hotels hit their highest occupancy rate – 76% – since before the pandemic when the Game Developers Conference, the NCAA basketball tournament and a high-profile sailing race took place in town last month.

But that only tells part of the story. As more and more tourists enjoy their vacations in San Francisco, many people who would serve them in the city’s hotels remain out of work.

Nearly half of the 9,000 people who work in San Francisco hotels, more than 60% of whom are immigrants, have not been asked to return to full-time work.

It would slash the hotel’s profit margins, say union leaders who represent workers. Hotels are responding that they are hiring based on their needs, and travel industry leaders say San Francisco is only beginning to recover.

Before the pandemic, the city’s hotel occupancy rate was second only to New York’s. Today, it has consistently ranked 25th out of the country’s top 25 markets, according to officials at sf travel, the city’s travel agency. It’s one of the reasons the Mayor of London Breed has just returned from a 10-day trip to Europe to boost business in the tourism industry which is so vital to the city’s economy – and to its tax base.

With us, the employees of the hotel industry suffer a lot. These are high-paying blue-collar jobs that allow people to earn a living in an expensive white-collar city. Housekeepers earn $28 an hour and have access to premium healthcare benefits.

But these benefits are exhausted for those who have not been called back to work; the union had extended them until 2020. Now, with the end of government unemployment benefits, many workers can no longer afford to sit by the phone waiting for a call to return to work.

They are not part of the Great Resignation, where most privileged Americans chose to quit their jobs during the pandemic. Nor are they sitting at home, idly collecting benefits, as some political narratives like to portray. These benefits are gone.

These people want to return to full-time work.

Some who can’t, like Christopher Flores, have to make major lifestyle changes.

Flores, 46, has worked for the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco since 2014. He cleans the hotel’s common areas and loves his job. He earned nearly $28 an hour and paid $10 a month for health care for his family, including his two teenage daughters. His wife was a housekeeper at another hotel and earned about the same amount.

But their work disappeared after the outbreak of the pandemic. Flores’ wife found a new job at another hotel — for just $24 an hour — but she didn’t. He was called in to work a few days a month, but would like to be back full time.

“I called my managers and told them that if you needed manpower, I’m available. Any time of the day,” Flores told me.

At first, he was hesitant to accept a new job, for fear of not being able to answer the call of his old one. He worked during the day, like delivering for DoorDash, to keep his family afloat.

Eight months ago, Flores accepted a job as a parking attendant. He works midnight to 7 a.m. and earns $19 an hour with no benefits.

” I do not have a choice. I need a job,” said Flores, a first-generation Filipino American and citizen. “Hilton doesn’t remind me (full time). So that’s the only job I’ve had.

Fortunately, his wife’s new job has health benefits. However, their family can no longer afford the Tenderloin apartment they used to live in.

Last week, they moved into a two-bedroom apartment that costs $500 less per month.

Flores’ story is not unusual. Many hospitality workers stayed home during this week last month when hotels filled up.

At the Hilton Union Square, hotel occupancy was 58%, but only 34% of housekeepers were back at work full-time, according to estimates provided by UNITE HERE Local 2, the workers’ union at the Hilton Union Square. ‘hotel. The W San Francisco hotel was 83% full, but only 67% of its employees were back at work. The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel was at 81% capacity, but only 55% of its housekeepers were back at work.

“Hilton San Francisco continually assesses staffing needs based on a forward-looking view of reservations and the local business environment,” a Hilton spokesperson wrote in an email. The Hotel Council of San Francisco, a trade organization that represents hotels that own about two-thirds of the city’s rooms but does not negotiate for them, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, many hotel employees are waiting to be called. And wait.

“People are sitting on the bench,” Anand Singh, president of Unite Here Local 2, told me. “They want to come back to work, they want to work in hotels. They want to be part of this recovery.

“But when they’re cut out of the equation, you’re eliminating good, middle-class jobs in San Francisco, and that’s the last thing our city needs to recover economically,” Singh said.

Singh is among union leaders questioning whether employers’ reluctance to call back housekeepers is part of a larger national plan to cut labor costs after the pandemic.

On an earnings call last year, Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said, “The work we’re doing right now in each of our brands … is to make them higher-margin businesses and to create more labor efficiency, especially in housekeeping, food and beverage and other fields.

“When we come out of the crisis, these businesses will have a higher margin and be less labor intensive than before COVID,” Nassetta said.

San Francisco and the state passed legislation to create a right to re-employment for people in the hospitality industry who lost their jobs during the pandemic. This typically forces large employers to offer people their jobs after they’ve been laid off due to the pandemic, when hiring for the same or similar role.

But, Singh said, the problem is that employers don’t have to call anyone back unless they say they’re needed.

“I wouldn’t say it’s toothless. I think he definitely has his place,” Singh said. “The problem is that it doesn’t compel hospitality employers to engage in the kind of behavior we’re seeing.”

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar, who led the city’s right of return legislation, is concerned. He told me he had asked the city’s Office of Economic Development and Workforce to provide an update on whether hotels were complying with the re-employment requirement.

“It is extremely important that hotels treat their workers fairly and ensure that workers’ rights and labor standards are upheld,” Mar said.

Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel, the city’s tourist board, is also worried about the effects of the recession on workers.

While he was encouraged by last month’s rebound, he told me, “It’s going to take more than a busy weekend…you can’t bring back full-time employees for a weekend.” end.

Even though domestic tourists may return, they are not the big spenders. San Francisco tourism is driven by conventions and international travelers. D’Alessandro said 60% of all tourism spending in 2019 came from international visitors. “And it’s going to be slow to come back,” he said.

The convention industry — which helps fill large banquet halls that require more hospitality staff — remains down 60% from its all-time high in 2019. Typically, D’Alessandro says, “you would have conventions every week or every two weeks. And it’s gonna be a while before we see that again.

How long? D’Alessandro said June would be a “really critical month”. A number of major conventions are coming to town, European travel season is about to kick off, and more people will be back in the office – and hopefully on a business trip.

“If we have a really robust June, that will help drive us forward for the rest of the year,” D’Alessandro told me. “However, we don’t expect to see 2019 overall levels until 2024.”

Meanwhile, August is another peak month for San Francisco hospitality workers. Their union contract expires on August 14. If that June boom doesn’t materialize, the wait to get back to work could be much longer.

Joe Garofoli is the San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political editor. Email: [email protected]: @joegarofoli

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