BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore City Council is set to vote on two bills that, if passed, would help hospitality workers return to the jobs they had before COVID-19 led hotels and event centers to lay off staff.

One of the bills would allow former employees to get their jobs back for a certain period of time even if the business is under new ownership.

“This is what this is all about: making sure those folks laid off and furloughed during the pandemic have the opportunity to come back to the job they worked so hard for and put so much time and effort into,” city councilman Kristerfer Burnett said

A number of hospitality workers told WJZ they get unemployment benefits but they want their old jobs back. They’re worried hotels and event centers may not bring back all the employees the businesses had pre-pandemic and feel as though they may fall through the cracks and end up jobless.

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The hospitality industry is the third-largest employer in Baltimore, and the layoffs have hit certain groups especially hard. Fifty-eight percent of the workers laid off due to COVID-19 have been women, most of them minorities.

“I’m ready to go back to work,” a lobby attendant said.

In March, the pandemic closed many hotels and event centers, leading to layoffs.

Burnett is trying to help those employees get their jobs back.

“Before I ran for office, before any of this, I was a waiter, so I know first hand what people deal with,” he said. “They work long hours for low pay and in the pandemic, those conditions become even more unsafe.”

AJ Prabhakran said he was laid off but gets unemployment benefits to pay his bills. His wife’s job now provides the family with groceries, he said.

After 35 years in hospitality, Trezsline Habersham said she just wants to go back to the jobs she had pre-pandemic.

“It would give me health insurance, it would give me money to put food on the table and provide for my family,” she said.

WJZ reached out to a number of area hotels Tuesday; a Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor spokesperson released a statement reading: “As a result of impact to business from COVID-19, Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor has temporarily suspended hotel operations. We are committed to fully restoring operations at our hotel and look forward to reopening our doors.”

The council is set to vote on the bills on Thursday.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Rachael Cardin

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