OAKLAND, CALIF.—California’s workplace health and safety watchdog voted 6–0 recently to create new rules to reduce the injuries hotel housekeepers commonly experience.
Cal/OSHA’s Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board approved Section 3345, Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention, at a meeting attended by hotel housekeepers from across the state. The move is part of a wave of efforts to protect housekeepers from workplace dangers including injuries, heavy workloads, sexual harassment, and assault.
“Hotel housekeepers are the invisible backbone of the hospitality industry,” said Pamela Vossenas, DrPHc, MPH and Director of Worker Safety and Health for UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers union. “Overwhelmingly women, immigrants, and people of color, housekeepers face high rates of workplace injury. The state of California has recognized the seriousness of the dangers housekeepers face and took an important step to protect these workers.”
Lifting 100-pound mattresses dozens of times each day and pushing heavy carts and vacuums across miles of carpet can lead housekeepers to suffer strain, sprain and tear injuries that can require physical therapy or even lead to permanent disability. UNITE HERE first petitioned Cal/OSHA to develop a standard to protect hospitality workers from injury in 2012, and nearly 300 UNITE HERE member housekeepers from seven metropolitan areas across the state have been part of Cal/OSHA’s process over the past six years.
‘A Way to Protect Ourselves’
“Many times our work is not recognized, and we who do this work are under-appreciated,” said Ana Maria Rodriguez, 46, a housekeeper in Anaheim. “With this vote, our work has more importance and we have a way to protect ourselves.”
Under the new standard, hotels will be required to reduce injury risks for housekeepers and offer them proper tools, such as long-handled mops or devices to help make beds. Housekeepers will get training on injury risks and have the right to suggest solutions to those risks.
Yolanda Baron Carmona, 52, a housekeeper in Emeryville, also attended Thursday’s vote and said, “Scrubbing glass shower doors and lifting mattresses is heavy work. I injured my neck and shoulder last year and couldn’t do my job. These new rules are good for my coworkers and all workers in the hotel industry.”
Hospitality workers also encounter some of the highest rates of sexual harassment in U.S. workplaces. A 2016 Chicago-based study conducted by UNITE HERE found 49 percent of housekeepers surveyed have had guests expose themselves or answer the door naked. UNITE HERE members have won injury protections and panic buttons in city-wide contracts in New York and Washington, D.C., and a city ordinance called Hands Off Pants On in Chicago last October. In 2016, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to protect hotel workers from injury and sexual harassment.