December 20, 2006 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Thousands of hotel workers in Boston are awaiting the results of contract negotiations between Unite Here! Local 26 and the city’s major hotel operators.  Although their current contract expired on November 30, both sides agreed to extend it until February 1, 2007 while they continue to meet at the bargaining table.  Unite Here! Local 26 represents about 6,000 housekeepers, waitstaff, bellmen and other hotel workers in Boston, who are seeking a five-year contract with a wage increase, and larger contributions from their employers on healthcare and retirement plans.  Besides these bread and butter concerns, the housekeepers are also seeking health and safety protections, in the form of workload relief.

Most room attendants are expected to clean 14-16 rooms per shift—one room every 30 minutes—which for many housekeepers causes physical strain and psychological stress. (See Hotel Workers Rising! Part I, Krause, et al 2005; Ala-Mursula, et al 2002; Bongers, et al 1993; Bigos, et al 1991)  Just for fun, try this at home: 

  • Set your kitchen timer for 30 minutes. 
  • Strip the linens off your bed, and remake it with an extra flat sheet so you can sandwich your blanket between two flat sheets. 
  • Take two pillows and fit them into one pillow case in order to form a super firm rectangle shape. 
  • Do the same thing again with two more pillows. 
  • Reapply your bedspread so it hangs just perfectly over the carpeted floor, and tuck the pillows in just right. 
  • Now, onto the bathroom.  Clean the toilet, the tub, the sink and the floor. 
  • Polish all the fixtures and tiles to remove water stains and make them shine like new. 
  • Clean the mirror top to bottom. 

You probably have 5-7 minutes left to

  • Vacuum the carpet, dust your nightstands, headboard and dresser, clean and polish the coffee pot, fold and arrange your bath towels.  Now, think about doing the whole thing over again 13 times. 

US hotels have invested at least $3 billion annually in recent years to renovate their properties and upgrade guest rooms with high-end beds, duvet covers, luxury linens, and whirlpool tubs.  Hotel guests have come to expect these fancier amenities, even at moderately priced hotels.  But, the upgrades translate into more tasks per room for each housekeeper, and no extra time to do them.  That’s where the room attendants hope to make some strides in their contract negotiations with the Boston hotel operators.  They would be following in the footsteps of hotel workers in Toronto who used safety and health issues and a “Stop the Pain” slogan in their campaign to reduce workload.

If you are traveling this holiday season or in the coming new year, lend a hand to the housekeepers by:

  • Leaving a note in your room that reads: “No housekeeping service needed today.”  (This is far better than any tip.  It gives the housekeeper a little extra time to spend in each of her other assigned rooms.)  Modify the note if you wish to read “No housekeeping needed today; just leave fresh towels.”
  • Staying at hotels where the workers are represented by a labor organization, and telling the hotel manager that is why you chose their property.  Click here for a list of union hotels. 
  • Filling out the comment card with a complement about the guest room’s cleanliness.

Read a few first-hand stories from hotel workers here.

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