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The Inhospitable World of L.A.’s Female Tourism Workers

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Hotel housekeepers marching with Hope Quilt, a symbol of solidarity

International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. While we have made great strides for women’s rights in the home, community and workplace over the past century, we still have a long way to go.

But does simply marking  the day do much for women’s lives? Not really. We need to engage community leaders and push our decision-makers to enact policies that ensure we’re constantly moving forward.

In Los Angeles, we have many sectors that employ a large percentage of women, including the hospitality industry. These women work daily to ensure that the 27 million visitors who visit our city annually have a great experience. They make sure the rooms are spotless, the beds are made perfectly and guests are greeted warmly.

Judging by the numbers, they are doing a damn good job of it. In 2011 Los Angeles experienced the largest number of visitors and spending in the history of the city. Approximately 26.9 million people visited L.A. in 2011, an increase of 4.2 percent from 2010. Tourist spending rose as well, with visitors accounting for $15.2 billion in expenditures – an eight-percent increase from the previous year.

L.A.’s hospitality sector women, who themselves likely can’t afford the hotels they work in, are the backbone of the tourism industry. They are the reason our visitors are receiving a world-class experience.

But that world-class experience does not extend to the workers. More than 40 percent of hospitality workers are living in “real poverty” (twice below the federal poverty line). Women represent the majority of hotel workers, and a majority of these women are women of color.

So while I will take a moment today to honor all the women who’ve fought to advance our rights and make our workplaces a safe, equitable and, dare I say, enjoyable, it’ll be just that – a moment – because there’s real work to be done.

Destination L.A. – a unique and innovative partnership of business, community, labor and environmental leaders working in collaboration to implement a vision for the Los Angeles tourism industry – will be hosting a brunch on Saturday, March 10 to highlight the struggles women workers face in the Los Angeles hospitality sector. We’re bringing together workers, activists, community leaders and academics to talk about the state of working women, and more importantly how the policy ideas proposed by Destination L.A. can provide solutions that lift not only women in the hospitality sector but thousands of other workers.

With women in the lead, we can transform one of our largest industries into a more just and equitable sector – one that benefits the industry, the city and families in Los Angeles.

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