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Baltimore mayor vetoes two bills that would have offered hospitality workers new job protections

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has vetoed two bills aimed at protecting the jobs of workers in the hard-hit hospitality industry.

One bill would have required hospitality businesses to rehire laid-off workers once they reopen. Another would have ensured that a hotel retains staff if the ownership changes hands. Both bills were approved by wide margins.

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The City Council approved both measures last month over objections from the hotel industry. Hospitality workers have suffered widespread unemployment as the pandemic hammers the tourism and event sectors.

UNITE HERE, the union representing hospitality workers, and other worker advocates supported the legislation.

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The city’s law department had opposed the bill requiring hotels to rehire laid-off workers, saying such a law is “an unconstitutional impairment of the employer/employee freedom of contract.”

Young, a Democrat, called it government overreach in a veto letter this week.

“While I appreciate the intent of this bill and agree that the City needs to continue doing everything it can to help our service workers weather the COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot in good conscience sign this particular piece of legislation which overreaches the authority of the Council and of City Government,” Young wrote.

In a statement, UNITE HERE Local 7 President Roxie Herbekian said: “It is more than disappointing that outgoing Mayor Young has shown such little regard for Baltimore’s hospitality workers who are out of work through no fault of their own. His claim that the legislation oversteps the law is bogus. Similar legislation has already been enacted in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Providence without legal challenge.”

Meanwhile, she noted, “with the approval pending of two new vaccines we can finally see a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.”

In vetoing the bill to protect workers if a hotel changes ownership, Young wrote that he was concerned it would “put additional undue burdens on hotel employers that are already struggling due to COVID-19.”

UNITE HERE plans a virtual news conference and rally Friday to discuss the vetoes.

It’s not clear if City Council will try to override the vetoes. Efforts to reach Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, the bills’ sponsor, and City Council President (and mayor-elect) Brandon Scott were unsuccessful. City Council’s next opportunity to consider an override is Dec. 7.

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