From the plump cloud of down bedding to the sparkling bathroom, a luxury hotel wraps guests in lush serenity, bearing no hint of the work that went into scrubbing the toilet and flipping the mattress. But when the room is unoccupied, the workers toiling quietly inside are stalked by constant threats of injury and abuse. Now hotel housekeepers are breaking the silence to demand fair working conditions.
As part of UNITE HERE!’s Housekeeper’s Global Week of Action campaign, the hospitality workers of Long Beach, California, rallied on Thursday to push the City Council to adopt a set of labor standards that would limit their workloads and strengthen protection from assault.
Stand with Women Against Abuse, a coalition of community and labor groups, says that offensive or predatory behavior at work is practically an occupational hazard for the mostly female hotel workforce. About eight in 10 hotel workers have encountered some form of verbal aggression or harassment at work, according to surveys. The proposed solution is providing staff with “panic button” devices, which allow workers to instantly summon emergency help. If this proposal is adopted, Long Beach would follow New York City, where most hotels introduced panic buttons in 2012, as part of an industry-wide labor contract.
The Long Beach proposal would require a security response within three minutes and guarantee workers “a right to be re-assigned to an area other than the area where the assault occurred.” As a deterrent, the sexual-assault protections would be publicized with signs about the panic button posted around the hotel.
In addition to these protections against assault, the proposal also includes guidelines to prevent overwork. The policy would institute a tiered approach, limiting a regular eight-hour day’s workload to “4,000 square feet or 12 average-sized rooms.” Cleaning 4,000 to 5,000 square feet would then be compensated by time-and-a-half pay, and higher workloads would have double pay.
Housekeepers currently might be assigned up to 18 rooms a day, or the equivalent of 2.5 single-family homes, according to Stand with Women. Workloads appear to be intensifying, as the number of hotels in the city has grown from 37 in 2002 to 44 today, “while its workforce has decreased from 2,575 to 2,370.”