Hotel workers may get new protections after union campaign

By Sheri Williams

A Sacramento County Supervisor is pushing for hotel housekeepers to carry panic buttons in case of sexual harassment by guests, an idea gaining popularity thanks to a nationwide campaign by Unite Here.

Sacramento Supervisor Phil Serna is asking the county to require that all hotel workers who enter rooms alone be equipped with a panic button provided by their employer, which would immediately summon hotel security when activated.

Cities including Seattle and Chicago already have such ordinances. They stem from an education campaign by Local 1 in Chicago highlighting the dangers many housekeepers face working alone.

Local 1 surveyed more than 500 of its members in 2016 and found that 49 percent reported that they had experienced a guest answering the door naked or exposing himself.

The report, titled “Hands Off, Pants On,” also found that 58 percent of housekeepers who responded said they had been sexually harassed by a guest.

Most said that didn’t report the incidents, often because they feared to do so. Some housekeepers said there were no formal policies in place from employers to address the situations.

Speaking to media in December, Serna said, “Sexual harassment assault is not going to be permitted here and we’re not going to stand for it in Sacramento County… I look forward to having the conversation.”

Roxana Tapia, an organizer for Unite Here Local 49 in Sacramento, said the local supported the proposed ordinance.

“I feel like it’s necessary and its something positive to protect the workers,” she said.

The County Board of Supervisors will likely vote on the measure in coming months.

In January, two state lawmakers also introduced a bill in the state legislature that would make panic buttons for hotel workers a requirement across California.

That bill, introduced by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), would also require hotels to ban for three years any guest who engaged in sexual harassment.

“We want to protect our most vulnerable women workers, hotel maids who are going into rooms alone, from sexual harassment,” Muratsuchi told media.

The state legislation comes in the wake of massive sexual harassment allegations both within the Capitol and in Hollywood, where producer Harvey Weinstein and others have been accused of multiple instances of sexual harassment, often taking place inside hotels.

The bill would also require hotels to inform guests about its policies by posting a notice on the inside of hotel room doors.

The Unite Here Local 1 campaign has been so influential in addressing the sexual harassment issues hotel housekeepers face that the two union members who spearheaded the campaign were included in its Person of the Year “Silence Breakers” issue in 2017, identified as Juana and Esthela.

A third hotel worker who spoke out about harassment is also featured.

“Sexual harassment is pervasive in the hospitality industry, and since 2012 UNITE HERE has been fighting for and winning cutting edge protections against it in the workplace,” said D. Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE, in a statement. “The national conversation is at last catching up to a problem our union’s courageous members who have been not only speaking out on, but actively running campaigns against and beating – from New York to DC and Seattle and Chicago.

“We are deeply honored that TIME Magazine featured our incredibly brave hotel housekeepers as their 2017 Person of the Year, and that our union sisters’ over seven years of being ‘Silence Breakers’ is now getting the national recognition and admiration they deserve. I and our union are long in awe of the courage of our hotel housekeepers, cocktail servers, bartenders, waitresses, and many more members in speaking out against the sexual harassment and assault that is too prevalent in the hospitality industry. The courage of our union workers in speaking out is resulting in changed policies across our industry that can transform lives.”

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