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Some Baltimore City Council members want to override mayor’s vetoes of hospitality worker bills

Baltimore hospitality workers and some City Council members say they’re not giving up on legislation meant to protect jobs in the industry, even after the mayor’s veto of two bills.

At a news conference hosted Friday by the union UNITE HERE Local 7, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said he is talking with colleagues about the possibility of overriding Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s vetoes.

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“I am advocating for a special meeting and an opportunity to override [the vetoes], but still working with the council president’s office and colleagues,” Burnett said.

Burnett was the lead sponsor of the two bills approved by the council last month. One, which passed 12-3, would have required hospitality businesses to rehire workers who were laid off in the pandemic once they reopen. The other, approved unanimously, would have ensured that a hotel retains staff if the ownership changes hands.

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The hotel industry opposed the measures, saying they would take away flexibility they need to recover from the coronavirus crisis. Young vetoed them earlier this week.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke also expressed support for a special session to override the vetoes.

“I think the votes are there,” she said.

Under current law, an override would take 12 votes. However, under a new charter amendment that takes effect Dec. 3, it would take 10 votes.

In a statement, Council President Brandon Scott’s spokeswoman, Stefanie Mavronis, said his office is in close communication with Burnett “and will make a determination soon about overriding the mayor’s vetoes.”

The Maryland Hotel Lodging Association said it applauded Young’s veto.

“It is standard practice for hotels to bring back qualified employees with experience as quickly as possible based on demand and operational needs,” CEO Amy Rohrer said in a statement. “The legislation at hand is unconstitutional, unfairly targets hotels, and unnecessarily ties the hands of an industry hard hit by the pandemic through no fault of our own.”

Thousands of hotel and event workers are out of jobs in the wake of the pandemic. According to UNITE HERE, the hospitality industry is the city’s third largest employer.

The city law department raised objections to the legislation that would require employers to rehire laid-off workers. James Bentley, the mayor’s spokesman, said Friday it was those legal concerns that led to Young’s vetoes.

Union representatives said similar measures have gone into effect in other U.S. cities without legal challenge.

Supporters say the bills will give some degree of certainty to laid-off workers and their families when tourism recovers.

“We know it’s not going to be an easy road getting back to regular life, but it would be a start,” said Ray Moore, who worked 23 years as a banquet server at the Hyatt Regency.

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Moore said it was very disappointing for the mayor to take this action “on his way out the door.”

“I don’t think he thought much about his legacy,” said Moore, who shared his story alongside others at the Zoom news conference.

Karah Hitchcock, who worked at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront and Horseshoe Casino, said her husband has continued working during the pandemic — but as a mother of two, it has been difficult for their family on one income.

And when she was working, it was “a blessing” to be able to help out her elderly parents with her income when needed.

“This is not just affecting us,” Hitchcock said.

Local union president Roxie Herbekian said it is common for hotel, event and casino workers in Baltimore to support extended family with their paychecks.

“When people have a steady job, they’re the one that family and neighbors go to when they’re in a rough spot,” she said. “So them not working has a widespread effect.”

Throughout the legislative process, the union wanted the mayor to hear the personal stories of those in the industry, said staff director Tracy Lingo.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “he chose at every point not to meet with the workers.”

Bentley, the mayor’s spokesman, said Friday evening he couldn’t find any record of a formal request for a meeting between the mayor and hospitality workers.

Karah Hitchcock’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

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