Chicago hotel housekeepers say NO! to workplace harassment … and win!

Unite Here members celebrate passage of Chicago ordinance protecting hotel workers from sexual harassment

While celebrities and politicians being accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault has brought workplace harassment into the national conversation, low wage workers, such as hotel housekeepers face similar instances of harassment cleaning hotel rooms and hope the conversation will help to end the harassment they’ve been fighting for years. Much less attention has been paid to the abuses and harassment low wage workers face, especially in the hotel industry.

A minibar attendant at a Chicago hotel, Cecilia walked to a guest’s door and was let in to a man masturbating at his computer. Given the satisfied look on the man’s face, it was clear that he had planned the encounter. Another guest once answered her knock by opening the door naked. “I felt nasty,” Cecilia recalled, “You’d expect that to happen to people in a jail but not in regular work. I felt like crying.” One of Cecilia’s colleagues confided that a guest tried to embrace her while in his room. Cecilia had to escort the housekeeper to security to report the incident.

Harassment in the workplace is not a new, or one-time, occurrence for housekeepers, who face abuses but are unable to report for fear of retaliation from an already exploitative work environment. Maria Elena Durazo, of Unite Here, has advocated for housekeepers to be given handheld, wireless panic buttons that can alert hotel security when a worker feels threatened: “Frankly, I don’t think much of the public understands what housekeepers go through just to clean these rooms and carry out the work.” The union won workers’ contracts to include the panic button, but the situation of sexual harassment for housekeepers is still dire. Durazo is now lobbying the city council to mandate them for all workers, union or not.

The panic buttons go a long way for workers to feel safe, but the imbalance of economic power between the harasser and survivors cannot solely be addressed by buttons. As Durazo argues, “We have to do something to equalize the power so that women really have the ability to speak up, without having to risk their livelihood. That goes for whether you’re a housekeeper or a food server or a big-time actor.”

To bring attention to the harassment of hotel and casino workers, Unite Here surveyed 500 of its Chicago area members. The majority surveyed were Latinx and Asian immigrants.

  • Nearly 58 % of hotel workers and 77% of casino workers had been sexually harassment by a guest;
  • 49 % of hotel workers said they had experienced a guest exposing themselves to the worker when answering their room door;
  • 56 % of casino cocktail servers said a guest had touched them, or attempted to touch them, without their consent;
  • Around 40% of casino workers had been pressured for a date or sexual favors by a guest.

Outfitting housekeepers with panic buttons started to receive attention and popularity after French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of assaulting housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo in a New York Hotel. Tet next year, the New York Hotel Trades Council won a contract for 30,000 workers that guaranteed the use of panic buttons for housekeepers.

The Chicago campaign to mandate panic buttons for the hotel industry received little resistance from the hotel lobby. President of the Chicago Federation of Labor Jorge Ramirez stated. “We didn’t see them out there with pompoms, but they didn’t speak out against it, either. I think the industry would have a hard time opposing this, especially with everything that’s come to light in the last few months.”

To mark the passage of the ordinance for panic buttons, housekeepers wore “No Harveys in Chicago” T-shirts, hoping that the buttons bring a sense of security and safety to women like herself and the younger housekeeper she had helped a couple months prior, because, “You shouldn’t be scared to work.”

 

(Photo Credits: Chicago Sun-Times / Fran Spielman)

Wage Theft in Music City: HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!


HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT! is the new battle cry for Workers’ Dignity’s newest campaign against wage theft and working conditions in Nashville’s booming hospitality industry. The member-led workers’ center for Nashville’s low-wage workers, with support from researchers at Vanderbilt University, released a report last week detailing the harsh conditions of labor for the city’s hospitality workers. The Music City has experienced a huge boost to its hospitality industry in the recent years thanks to Nashville’s rise to prominence as an “it” city. However economic benefits have not reached the lowest paid workers in the industry – housekeepers, custodians, and laundry employees.

The findings of the report are saddening, though not shocking. The hospitality industry has a long history of wage theft and abuse among its lowest paid workers. Nashville is no exception. The report finds that nearly 10% of all hospitality workers in Nashville make less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 89% of workers worked more than 40 hours a week without receiving fair overtime compensation. As housing and living costs sky-rocket in Nashville, the average wage of a hotel housekeeper, $8.36 an hour, falls far below the national median income. Who are the housekeepers? Overwhelmingly women of color.

In addition to criminally low and stolen wages, the industry is providing little in way of quality safety standards to the lowest paid workers. 39% of employees received no on the job training in handling toxic chemicals. 21% of workers reported that their employees did not provide protective materials such as masks or gloves. 27% of employees reported being injured on the job and 51% of employees are not provided sick days (paid or unpaid). Workers report constantly becoming ill due to long exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals, malfunctioning elevators that lead them to run flights of stairs as they are not permitted in the elevators with hotel patrons, and severe burns that received no attention from hotel management.

Wage theft anywhere cannot be tolerated, but in a city where prices, and buildings, continue to go up, it is crucial that every worker has access to a fair wage and safe working environments. As Workers’ Dignity claims, Nashville is in the midst of a crisis. You may donate to Workers’ Dignity here and remind the Music City that HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!

(Photo Credit: Workers’ Dignity) (Video Credit: You Tube / Zach Blumey / Workers’ Dignity)

Chambermaids in Paris reject precariousness

 

The dirty secret of the European “developed economies” adjustment to the rules of the neoliberal market is being increasingly questioned. The neoliberal ideological tool of work flexibility has reached the welfare states to dismantle the social protection laws and produce social vulnerability. The cost of labor is now presented as the reason for unemployment and public deficit while the number of billionaires has doubled since the beginning of the financial crisis.

After the revelations of the precarious condition of over 7 million German workers who live with about 400 Euros (about $ 500) in a country with growing inequalities and poor protection of women workers with regards to pregnancy and child care, here comes the “Zero hour contracts” of the United Kingdom. Le Monde recently published an investigation of these contracts.

“Zero hour” already signals hopelessness for working people, especially women. The contracts keep workers underemployed, without work or benefits. The workers are summarily summoned to work when their labor is needed. Between jobs, they receive no pay. The materialistic order has reached a new height of mechanistic denial of life for the women and men whose lives are dictated by a “zero hour contract (ZHC).”

Every day, workers stare at their cell phones, waiting for a text message tol tell them if they’ll work or not, if they’ll make money or not.

In Great Britain, companies receive about 1900 Euros ($2200) for a new employment contract. Thus, in order to receive this precious subsidy, some companies don’t call their ZHC workers and make room for new workers with the same dreadful contract. “We, the contracted workers, we are like the cookies that we pack at the factory; we move on a conveyer belt and then we fall in a box to leave room for the next one.” declared one of these workers. For instance Mac Donald UK has enrolled 90% of its work force under ZHC.

Of course, the wage/hour is lower than full time wages, and, without benefits, workers’ precariousness is higher as is as their state of stress. In the northern suburbs of Liverpool where there is a high ZHC employment rate, 45% of children live in poverty. These destabilizing conditions keep people in fear and contribute to heightened an anti immigrant sentiment.

In France, chambermaids, mostly women of color, of five stars hotels in Paris have been fighting to stop this kind of contracted work and to demand full employment contracts. They have been demonstrating in the streets of Paris and are still demonstrating, although their colleagues from the Luxury Hyatt of Place Vendome and Madeleine have obtained a serious raise ($ 350/month) with full time work guarantees.

Other luxury hotels, such as the Park Hyatt, continue to contract chambermaid work. Under these conditions, the pace of work is intense, the wages are meager, and overtime work is never paid. They have minimum health coverage compared to average French workers.

These hotel workers have received the support of the Mairie (City Hall) de Paris. Recently, at the forum “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society”, the deputy mayor of Paris, Helene Bidard declared that it is urgent to fight along with these workers because they symbolize the situation of the women constantly facing precarious work. They dared bring to light these shady practices that take advantage of the most vulnerable populations, women and in particular immigrant women. She further announced that the City of Paris is negotiating strong measures with the Ministry of Tourism to remove stars from hotels that contract chambermaid work.

The current neoliberal frenzy that bestows to labor cost numbers a justificatory power that mistreats populations increasing inequalities needs to come to an end. We need to raise the spatula like the Burkinabe women.

 

(Photo credit: Rue 89/ Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff)