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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why we need to care about what happens to hotel workers

There is a story that isn't getting much coverage in the Long Beach press about a group of hotel workers who contend that they have been fired from a local hotel because they complained about unfair working conditions -- which they are entitled to do under the National Labor Relations Act without fear of being retaliated against.

The story is complicated because it appears that the hotel utilized an agency to hire the workers, and the workers did the very same work as the directly hired housekeepers. However, the agency workers complained to the hotel that they did not receive the same pay. nor benefits as the other workers did doing the same work and that the agency failed to deduct the appropriate taxes from their pay. A state agency interviewed some of the workers and the workers were let go by the hotel.

Now, I know that some think that in this economy people should be grateful for even having a job and that if they don't like the conditions at their job then they can leave.

There are several things wrong with that line of thinking: no economic condition should ever justify the waiving of legal rights and working men and women (most of the housekeepers in this country are women) should not be forced to give up their rights to work under the laws that govern employment. And, workers should be paid equal pay for equal work.

More and more stories are coming out about the injuries, abuse and mistreatment of hotel housekeepers across this country. Hotel workers are 48% more likely to be injured on the job than the typical
worker in the service sector. Hotel workers also have higher rates of serious, disabling injuries—those that require days away from work or reassignment to light duty.

Apparently, the hotel industry's use of heavy mattresses and the repetitive work of lifting the mattress to put on and tuck in sheets causes serious back strain. Pushing supply carts that can weigh as much as 300 pounds across carpeted floors puts additional pressure on workers arms, backs and legs. Repetitive motions of lifting, bending, stretching and pushing to scrub, clean, dust and vacuum, are not the only dangers they face. Housekeepers are also exposed to potent industrial cleaners on a daily basis and chemical-induced skin rashes and eye irritations are common.

Housekeepers have long been silent about their working conditions because they do not want to lose their source of employment. So it takes great courage to speak up to an employer when you are making below poverty level wages and doing back breaking work that you know you need to do in order to support your family. 

Many people have become sensitive to not purchasing clothing made by child or slave labor -- no matter how inexpensive the product may be. Clothing manufacturers have pledged not to use sweat shops as a result of public pressure. We know that cheap clothing made by children or slaves is not right. We know that it is not fair.

Well, it is not right to enjoy the luxury of a clean hotel room, stocked with fresh linens and mini-bar, while knowing that the people who provided the services have not been treated fairly.

Save Station 18

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