With raised mops, signage, and a stage, a demonstration Thursday afternoon in front of Hyatt Hotel in Long Beach called attention to work-related injuries suffered by hotel housekeepers.
In eight other cities across the United States including Los Angeles and San Francisco, hotel housekeepers have filed complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The complaints make a number of policy recommendations and proposed standards to protect the safety of housekeepers.
Hotel workers are 25% more likely to suffer from job-related injuries than other service worker employees. In a study by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM) Hyatt hotels were found to have the highest injury rate.
Celia Alvarez, a former housekeeper at the Long Beach Hyatt became permanently disabled as a result of an increased workload. In 2003, the Hyatt had implemented a program called the Refresh program, which was a new service available catered to hotel patrons.
The effect of the program was an increased workload for housekeepers.
“The work remained the same, and there were the same workers” said Alvarez. “But they asked us to do a lot more.”
Alvarez said that she would clean up to 20 rooms per day. She had been with the Hyatt for 19 years before she was forced to retire 2 years ago due to constant pain in her lower back and shoulder.
Under the Refresh program, housekeepers at Hyatt, who are not unionized, can clean up to 25-30 rooms per day. Organizers say that this is high compared with hotel workers in unions who are expected to clean 14 or 15 rooms per 8-hour shift.
Another Hyatt employee who would only identify herself as “Maria” said that when she started in 1997, she was expected to clean 16 rooms.
Involved in a room cleaning are numerous activities: the scrubbing of toilet bowls and bathtubs, dusting, vacuuming, and the changing of linens. To meet their quotas, housekeepers must complete that full range of activities in as little as 15 minutes.
Additionally, housekeepers say that they are not given the proper equipment to effectively complete their jobs. Alvarez said that hotel management would give them rags to clean bathroom floors as opposed to mops, which forced her to exert pressure on her knees, elbows, and back. Moreover, when changing linens, housekeepers must lift mattresses that can weigh up to 120 lbs.
The speed with which they are expected to perform their duties combined with poor equipment has resulted in the high number of injuries say experts.
Linda Delp, Director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety & Health Program (LOSH) noted that housekeepers were especially susceptible to two types of injuries: acute-traumatic and musculo-skeletal.
Acute-traumatic includes falls from slippery bathroom floors, tripping on furniture, and bruising due to rushed work. Musculo-skeletal injuries result from repetitive motions involved in activities such as scrubbing floors and lifting beds.
The pressure to complete rooms looms on housekeepers. Job security is volatile for non-unionized employees. A housekeeper named Margarita Ramos said, "I would sometimes wouldn't take my break or eat my lunch, just so I could finish a room."
There is also equal pressure not to report injuries. Some hotels have health and safety programs which promise cash prizes to not report an injury.
Response time from the OSHA is unclear. The demonstration is the first after OSHA complaints were filed last week.