By JEFF JOHNSON
One in a series of columns
on ballot measures
(Oct. 12, 2016) — Hotel workers in Seattle and UNITE HERE Local 8 have brought to the November ballot a critical initiative to improve employment standards in the hospitality industry and to protect female workers from sexual assault and harassment.
Fully 80 percent of all housekeepers in Seattle’s hotels are women and the majority of them are women of color. They perform backbreaking work to get guest rooms cleaned up for hotel patrons and ready for arriving customers on a daily basis. These workers are largely out of sight, and for far too many, out of mind.
Unfortunately these hardworking women are subjected to unwanted sexual harassment and assault on a regular basis as they work in the isolated and intimate settings of hotel guest rooms. Currently there are little to no protocols to protect these workers and little responsibility taken by hotel owners to protect them. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise when we have a presidential candidate, who happens to be a hotelier, who admits publicly that he can get away with sexually assaulting women.
City of Seattle Initiative 124 creates a protocol to protect female housekeepers and ensure that the city’s hotels take responsibility for protecting them. Housekeepers would be provided with panic buttons to use whenever they witness a crime, sexual harassment, or an emergency and would be able to immediately leave the area without fear of being retaliated against by the employer for leaving their post.
The hotel would be required to record accusations of reported sexual harassment or assault and cooperate in reporting them to law enforcement. Accused guests would be banned from staying at the hotel for three years and their name would be on record for five years.
Initiative 124 would also limit the number of rooms housekeepers would be required to clean on a daily basis – often times today housekeepers are required to clean up to 15 rooms per day. To put this in perspective think about the backbreaking work of cleaning 15 bathtubs and showers, toilets, and flipping up to 30 queen size mattresses a day. I am exhausted just writing that sentence. But it is not just that this work is exhausting, this excessive workload is responsible for high rates of workplace injuries.
Initiative 124 also has provisions that require large hotels to provide low-income hotel workers with adequate, affordable family health care coverage or additional compensation so that workers can purchase appropriate coverage.
Initiative 124 also provides job security protections when a hotel sells its property or comes under new management. Hotel workers deserve the right to maintain their middle class jobs when ownership or management changes hands. It is after all the work of these employees that keeps the guests coming back to spend money.
Vote Yes, to protect women. Vote Yes, to protect hotel housekeepers. Vote Yes, to improve employment standards in the hotel industry. Vote Yes, on Seattle Initiative 124.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and approximately 450,000 rank-and-file union members. This is one of a series of columns by Johnson about state and local ballot measures for 2016.