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Bloomberg Law: Punching In: Unions, Lawmakers Cry Foul on Marriott Safety Fee

Punching In: Unions, Lawmakers Cry Foul on Marriott Safety Fee

Democratic lawmakers and a union representing Los Angeles hotel workers are asking the Biden administration to investigate whether Marriott is profiting off a “deceptive” surcharge that the hotel chain says is used to cover the costs of locally required worker safety protections.

California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Jimmy Gomez urged Federal Trade Commission officials in a letter June 28 to investigate Marriott International Inc. for adding a “Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance Costs Surcharge” to guests’ bills at its Los Angeles locations, arguing it amounts to a “junk fee” to customers “under the guise of covering compliance” with the city’s local worker protection laws.

L.A.’s Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance, which went into effect in August 2022, requires that Los Angeles-area hotels provide staff with panic buttons to report violent behavior, and places limits on workers’ daily workload and overtime assignments.

“I couldn’t believe that they actually had it on there, a surcharge to pay for panic buttons. I mean, who does that?” Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, which petitioned the L.A. city council for the protection ordinance, said in an interview with Punching In.

The union and California Democrats want the Biden administration to investigate the surcharge, as well as whether similar charges were added at Marriott locations in other West Coast cities that have enacted similar local protections for hotel workers, as part of its efforts to crack down on “junk fees.” Those areas include Long Beach, Santa Monica, Glendale, West Hollywood, Irvine, Emeryville, and Seattle.

Petersen said the fee was deceptive to consumers because it’s listed alongside other state taxes. “So, consumers undoubtedly believe it’s some state mandated fee,” he said. “But, in fact, it turns out it’s a total you know, dupe and attempt to deceive consumers tempted to put money in their pockets.”

“Marriott is abusing worker protection laws to boost profits and scam consumers,” Rep. Porter said in a written statement. “The federal government has a duty to investigate this junk fee and put an end to unfair practices that raise costs for Americans.”

The pressure from unions and lawmakers also follows a lawsuit filed last month in California state court by hotel guests who say Marriott profits off of the fee by charging more than required to cover the costs of the safety protections. The complaint filed June 21 alleges violations of California’s consumer protection and competition laws, and argues the surcharge is a “junk fee” that wracks up an estimated $3.6 million annually in guest charges for just a single Los Angeles-area hotel.

Marriott didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.