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Hotel Hell: Can Hyatt Housekeepers Win Respect?




I was recently asked to take part in a “role play” for a group of Hyatt hotel housekeepers in the basement of their union hall, in the Pico Union neighborhood of  Los Angeles.  Each had taken a leave of absence from work to talk with community leaders about conditions for room attendants in their hotels, and they needed a chance to practice. The women belong to UNITE HERE Local 11, and are part of a national campaign of housekeepers reaching out for community support of boycotts at several Hyatt properties.

Even though some of them knew me as an active supporter of hotel workers, first as a community volunteer and then as part of the LAANE staff, I agreed to play the director of an environmental organization with limited knowledge about the hotel industry. (This last part didn’t require much acting from me.)

Sometimes struggling to express themselves in English, the middle-aged women in matching housekeeper uniforms took turns describing their work-place experiences cleaning rooms in some of our city’s most glamorous inns.

Forget the pillow mints — Martha Pacheco started by showing me the scars on her hands and arms from carpal tunnel surgeries. For the past 15 years she has worked at the Century Plaza Hotel, lifting heavy mattresses, changing sheets and stuffing pillows into undersized cases.  Despite multiple operations to correct the condition, she had to return to the same heavy and repetitive work that caused her injuries in the first place — or lose her job.

Sandra Miranda of the trendy Andaz Hotel on the Sunset Strip, home to rock stars and late-night parties, described the Hyatt housekeeper workload. It’s  a strenuous routine, she says,  that leaves her with chronic body pain.

She said housekeepers working at Hyatts have the highest injury rate among the five major hotel companies surveyed in a 2009 study. (Hyatt even opposes California Senate Bill 432, which would require companies to provide cleaning staff – who now scrub bathroom floors on their hands and knees — with mops, and to use fitted sheets on mattresses. A petition to pressure the corporation to drop its opposition has been circulating in response.)

Cathy Youngblood, also of the Andaz, described the nature of her work – from scrubbing floors and bathtubs in rooms left trashed by client parties, to changing linens and sometimes unexpectedly  encountering guests, alone, behind closed doors.  Margarita Ramos, a veteran housekeeper at the Century Plaza, finally asked if I would sign a statement of support for them and Hyatt housekeepers around the country.

More than by the content of their presentations, I was moved by the courage of each woman around the table.  It’s not easy to speak against one’s long-term employer, for whom you’ve proudly dedicated 10-20 years of your working life, and on whom you’re economically dependent.  And it’s not easy to step outside your comfort zone to present to professionals with no personal stake in your problems.

Still I can’t imagine anyone forgetting these five women with their careful and precise pronunciation telling their stories of pain and disrespect.  I, of course, signed the boycott pledge in a minute.  And I hope you will too.

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