November 8, 2016 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At The New York Times, Dan Barry reports on the Hispanic hotel workers who are becoming a powerful political force in Las Vegas. In particular, the story focuses on the 56,000-member Culinary Union, whose membership is more than half Hispanic. The story is told through the eyes of Celia Vargas, 57, a guest room attendant at a hotel along the famous Vegas Strip — Barry writes:

Despite their name tags, guest room attendants are anonymous. They go unnoticed by many as they push their 300-pound carts to the next room, and the next.

A glimpse of what is expected of these attendants can be found at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a joint venture between the culinary and bartenders unions and many properties along the Strip. Here, people are trained as cooks or baker’s helpers, bus persons or bar apprentices — or guest room attendants.

A corner of the academy’s building features a series of mock guest rooms, each one representing a specific hotel’s style: a Bellagio suite, an MGM Grand, a Caesars Palace. Students learn how to lift mattresses without injuring their backs; how to wear gloves while reaching with care into wastebaskets; and how to maintain quality while moving quickly, because there’s always another room.

“Get in and get out,” says Shirley Smith, a former guest room attendant who now trains others.

Consider all the items on that cart. Linens, magazines, water bottles, coffee, toiletries, tissues, glass cleaners, disinfectants, bathrobes, dusters, a vacuum, and assorted brushes, including one for the toilet and one for the crevices around the tub and shower.

Now consider the job itself.

“We make the beds, dust, vacuum, mop, fill the coffee, the creamer, the sugar,” Ms. Vargas says. “We wash the toilet, the bathtub, the shower, the Jacuzzi. Worst, sometimes, is the kitchen. We clean the kitchen.”

All in a half-hour. Nine, 10, 11 times a day.

Read the full story here.

In other news:

Center for Public Integrity: Chris Hamby reports that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Johns Hopkins Hospital, alleging that sick coal miners were defrauded out of workers’ compensation by a now-shuttered radiology unit. The suit relies heavily on the center’s previous investigative reporting, the “Breathless and Burdened” series, which found that the radiology unit chief, Dr. Paul Wheeler, was involved in more than 1,500 miner cases since 2000 but never once found a case of severe black lung disease. However, the center’s reporting found that biopsies and autopsies in more than 100 cases proved Wheeler wrong. Hamby writes: “The allegations against Johns Hopkins and Wheeler in the complaint include fraud, unjust enrichment, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the federal law best known as a tool used against organized crime. Johns Hopkins and Wheeler ‘have engaged in a pattern and practice with the intent to defraud at least hundreds of toxically injured coal miners of federally earned benefits,’ the lawsuit alleges.”

Stat: Amy Liebman reports on the relationship between struggling economies and disease outbreaks like Zika, writing that “serious public health challenges often flourish in struggling economies because the habits and movements of people change. Yet health authorities rarely treat migration as a marker of public health concern.” For example, Liebman wrote that in Venezuela, urban workers falling on hard times traveled into the rainforest to mine for gold. In the forest, many miners contracted malaria, eventually bringing the disease back to the cities when they returned. The result was a resurgence of the mosquito-borned disease after Venezuela had been malaria-free for more than 50 years. She writes: “Such public health threats aren’t restricted to less developed nations. It happened in Florida during the Great Recession. Beginning in late 2007, hundreds of thousands of Floridians went into foreclosure after the subprime mortgage crisis, leaving thousands of stagnant abandoned backyard pools — perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Don Behm reports that Milwaukee’s County Board has approved a living wage ordinance that will raise the minimum wage to $15 for county employees as well as for workers hired through county contractors. The new wage will be phased in over the years, hitting $15/hour by 2021. Behm writes: “In March of 2014, the County Board adopted its first ‘living wage’ ordinance based on a formula using the federal poverty level for a family of four. The minimum hourly wage was set at $11.32 in 2014.”

Washington Post: James McAuley writes that women across France were urged to leave their jobs at 4:34 pm local time on Monday to protest the gender pay gap. The specific protest time represents the average salary difference between men and women. Overall, French women make about 15 percent less than their male counterparts. McAuley writes: “The idea has already garnered significant support from high-profile women in the French government, many of whom have welcomed it as a means of calling attention to concerns that go beyond salaries.” A similar wage protest took place in Iceland in October, when thousands of women left their jobs at exactly 2:38 pm local time to say ‘If I were a man, I might have earned my paycheck by now, so I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off and demanding change.'”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.

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