Tourism & Cruises

Miami Beach hotels likely to get extension to install panic buttons. But not the year they wanted

Miami Beach hotels likely will get an extension to the deadline to arm their employees with panic buttons — but it won’t be the year some were seeking.

Instead, elected officials Wednesday gave their initial approval for a 45-day extension to comply with a law passed in July 2018 that requires hotels and hostels to provide a “safety button or notification device” to housekeepers, room service servers, room attendants and minibar attendants. The technology is designed to protect workers from sexual assault and harassment.

In an effort to delay the Aug. 1, 2019, deadline, some hotels claimed the technology costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and would be difficult to implement.

But Miami-based panic button vendors told the Miami Herald that the systems actually cost far less. Quotes provided to the Herald ranged from $2 per month per hotel room to between $4,000 and $14,000 a year for 20 safety buttons in a 100-room hotel. Vendors said the systems take as little as a few days to install.

Commissioner Michael Góngora introduced a proposal last month that would have delayed implementation until Aug. 1, 2020. Góngora said he was contacted by the Dream South Beach hotel on Collins Avenue and 11th Street, and the South Beach Group Hotels, which owns 16 Miami Beach hotels, with their concerns about meeting the 2019 deadline. A lobbyist for South Beach Group Hotels told commissioners that the technology would set the company back $250,000 to $500,000 per hotel.

Neither South Beach Group Hotels nor their lobbyist responded to questions about the technology company that had issued those quotes and why the hotels weren’t able to use cheaper devices. At a Neighborhood Affairs committee meeting on May 20, Chief Operating Officer Chris Rollins said that the company had received “exorbitant” quotes when the law first passed.

“Technology changes every day and it goes down as far as pricing goes,” he said. Rollins did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment about the status of implementation at the company’s hotels.

The hotel workers’ union does not object to the 45-day delay, said Kandiz Lamb, vice president of Unite Here Local 355, speaking at Wednesday’s commission meeting. But she raised concerns about the types of panic buttons hotels are using.

Wendi Walsh, the secretary-treasurer of the local Unite Here union, previously said the Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort — the city’s largest hotel — plans to use panic buttons that make loud noises when pressed but do not identify a worker’s exact location. The Fontainebleau declined to comment about the panic button system it plans to use.

“These will not make hotel workers safe,” Lamb said. “It will delay the time it will take to get to her, and by then it will be too late.”

City Attorney Raul Aguila said that the ordinance purposefully does not specify what kind of device hotels must use. “That is something for the hotel to determine with its employees,” he said. “We are not specifying what kind of system, recognizing that one size does not fit all.”

Commissioners John Elizabeth Alemán and Ricky Arriola opposed giving hotels an extra 45 days to comply. Alemán said the extension would “set a bad precedent.”

“I really don’t like the precedent of rewarding the ones that didn’t do what they needed to do in what was a very generous time frame to comply,” she said.

Alemán and Arriola voted against the extension, which passed 4-2. Commissioner Micky Steinberg was absent. The final vote on the delay will come in July.

Under the ordinance, hotels are also required to place a sign in each room notifying guests in 14-point type that employees are armed with panic buttons.

To show that they are complying with the new rules, hotels will be required to submit an affidavit stating that they’ve met the panic-button requirements when they renew their annual business license. Violators will get a written warning for a first offense and can be fined between $500 and $2,000 for multiple offenses within a six-month period.

The Code Compliance department has said it plans to enforce the new rules by conducting spot checks as well as by responding to complaints.

According to a survey by Unite Here Local 355, 63 percent of the more than 70 Miami Beach hotel workers surveyed said they had been sexually assaulted or harassed while working in guest rooms.

Miami Beach hotels aren’t the only ones being asked to provide workers with panic buttons. Chicago passed a law requiring hotels to equip workers with panic buttons in July 2018. Sacramento and Long Beach, California, have passed similar ordinances. Panic button measures have become mainstays in hotel worker bargaining contracts in New York and Las Vegas.

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