November 9, 2010
Today Hyatt hotel housekeepers in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and six other cities around the country, filed injury complaints with OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration, the division of the US Department of Labor charged with ensuring safe working conditions for working men and women. The complaints were filed by housekeepers at 12 Hyatt hotels that employ over 3500 workers. It was the first multi-city filing of its kind in the private sector.
Nenita Ibe’s Story
Among the housekeepers filing complaints was Nenita Ibe, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Santa Clara for the past 10 years. Hyatt Santa Clara is a non-union hotel where workers are fighting to achieve a fair process to decide whether or not to form a union.
Nenita is a 68-year old widow and mother of 5. She came to the United States from the Philippines in 1996. Nenita remembers the exact moment she was injured on the job:
On September 4, 2009, I was making a bed at the Hyatt and I felt severe pain in my right shoulder and arm as I tucked in the sheets. I work with flat sheets and we have to push our whole arm under the mattress to make the bed correctly. I immediately reported this to the Housekeeping manager who asked me several times if I was sure I hurt myself at work. After I insisted that I never had this pain before, she directed me to go see a doctor. I went to all the therapy sessions, missing about 2 to 3 hours of work every time I went in for a check-up. I was assigned to do “light” duty – folding linen and towels, and cleaning shower curtains – which required me to use my injured arm and hands. I did not recover. I still work 8 hours a day cleaning rooms in painful anguish. I used to work with both arms and hands, but now I only have the full use of my left arm. I use my knee and left arm to lift the mattress to tuck in the sheets.
Nenita’s injury affects all aspects of her life now:
I feel the pain from my right shoulder to my fingers. My life has changed drastically because of this injury. I cannot use my right arm. Every night I wake up from the pain and cannot go back to sleep for 2 hours. If I hold a mug with my right arm I spill my coffee. I have to now only use my left arm to eat with a fork and knife. When I take a bath I have to only use my left arm. I changed how I put on my bra and when I put on my shirt I move very slowly so I don’t feel as much pain. When I go grocery shopping, I can only buy a little at a time, because I can’t carry the bags with both hands on the bus. I need to use a cart to do my laundry down the street because I cannot carry the laundry. If I ride in a car, I cannot close the passenger side door because I will feel intense pain in my right arm. Everything I do now takes much longer and I am constantly aware of the injury.
She is speaking out now and participating in the joint OSHA filing to ensure that other workers do not experience the pain of a workplace injury like she has. She says, “I am sharing my experience of workplace injury because I am not the only housekeeper who suffers these injuries. Many of my co-workers work with injuries. We all deserve a safe work place.”
Study shows Hyatt leads industry in workplace injuries
Hyatt likes to tout its hotel brands as “industry leading,” and they are, but not in a good way. A major peer-reviewed study of hotel injuries was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM) earlier this year. By company, housekeepers working at Hyatt hotels had the highest injury rate of those hotels studied, with a risk of injury almost twice that of the company with the lowest rate. The AJIM study found the highest injury rates among hotel workers to be in housekeeping. The study also indicated alarming differences in hotel injuries by race and gender, showing that women hotel workers were 50% more likely to be injured than men, and Hispanic women had almost double the risk of injury of their white female counterparts.
Housekeeping is physically demanding work. Luxury beds with heavier mattresses weigh upwards of 100 lbs a piece, and must be lifted several times to accommodate triple-sheeting. Housekeepers push carts loaded down with the extra amenities required for their guests. And Hyatt is pushing housekeepers to clean more and more rooms a day. At some Hyatt properties, room attendants are required to clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is commonly considered standard in the industry. Speeding up work by raising the room quota or adding room amenities can strain the body and lead to more accidents, like slipping on wet bathroom floors or tripping over furniture.
Meanwhile, Hyatt has created a workplace culture that discourages workers from reporting injuries. Maria Carmen Dominguez, who worked at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio as a room attendant before getting a broken tendon and permanently injuring her shoulder, alleges that management at her hotel created a monetary disincentive for reporting injuries called “Safety Bingo,” with a lottery prize for housekeepers that grows every day that no injury is reported.
Complaints seek common sense remedies to keep housekeepers safe
The complaints recommend to OSHA a number of remedies to reduce the health risks associated with housekeeping work. These recommendations include: fitted sheets to reduce the number of times that women must lift 100-plus pound mattresses to tuck sheets; long-handled mops and dusters, so workers do not have to get down on their hands and knees to clean the floors or climb bathtubs to reach high surfaces; and reasonable room quotas, so women no longer have to rush to finish rooms, risking slips and falls.
“There are common sense changes like fitted sheets, mops, or caps on daily room quotas that can make the difference between healthy bodies and hurt housekeepers,” says occupational health expert Gary Orr. “It is critical that we explore ways of making hotel work safe to reduce the high rates of injury that we see among housekeepers. Corporate-wide solutions are not only needed but are the most effective and less costly as they can be applied to multiple worksites.”
Now leaders like Kim Gandy, former President of NOW and current Vice-President and General Council for Feminist Majority, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) are joining women like Nenita Ibe in speaking out and shedding light on the plight of some of the most invisible members of our society. ”We have much to do in the realm of worker safety across the board – eight to twelve million workers suffer work-related injuries on an annual basis. These hard-working men and women are at risk due to overwork and other factors – factors that are readily preventable,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3). “We must do more to protect all our workers, and I am proud to stand with UNITE HERE today and say to Hyatt and other employers across the country that hotel workers will no longer tolerate being overworked and exploited at risk to their health.”
- Hotel housekeepers are getting hurt
- Report (2010) Occupational injury disparities in the US hotel industry