NATIONAL REPORT—In early 2009, almost 10 years ago, the Sheraton Seattle and Sheraton Kauai Resort launched a program that later became known as “Make a Green Choice.” That program, which allows guests to opt out of housekeeping in exchange for a reward during their stay (vouchers, loyalty points), grew within Starwood Hotels and Resorts and now falls under the Marriott International umbrella because of its purchase of Starwood. In addition to Make a Green Choice, Marriott also has a housekeeping opt-out program called “Your Choice.”
“The program allows guests to be part of that sustainability effort when it fits their needs, giving them an opportunity to reduce water, energy, and chemical usage,” says Jeff Flaherty, Global Communications + Public Affairs for Marriott. “Guests who choose to forego housekeeping for up to three consecutive days are offered a choice of loyalty points or a food and beverage credit as both a thank you and incentive for helping us be more environmentally responsible.”
Marriott’s housekeeping opt-out programs have been getting attention lately because of UNITE HERE union member strikes around the United States and a report and press release issued by UNITE HERE about housekeeping opt-out programs.
Housekeepers Not Happy About ‘Choice’ Programs
According to housekeepers that are members of UNITE HERE and UNITE HERE spokespersons, housekeeping opt-out programs may be good for the environment and the bottom line but not so good for housekeepers. “Green Choice can really turn housekeeping into a horrible job,” says Lior Appel-Kraut, Researcher, Local 26 for UNITE HERE. Housekeeping opt-out programs are one of the reasons housekeepers are striking, Appel-Kraut adds.
In its “Marriott’s Dirty Choice, How ‘Your Choice’ Harms Housekeepers” report, UNITE HERE outlines how the housekeeping opt-out programs are having a negative impact. First, because guests are not having their rooms cleaned for up to three or four days in some cases, the rooms are more difficult to clean. “All across the United States, we have had reports of housekeepers using bleach,” Appel-Kraut says. Chemicals such as bleach can cause eye damage, severe skin irritation, and impact the throat and respiratory system.
Guestrooms that typically take 30 minutes to clean can take up to an hour if it is a “choice” room. “If a housekeeper is assigned three Green Choice rooms out of 15, it is impossible to spend a half hour on each room,” Appel-Kraut says. “They are expected to finish the rooms in eight hours. They will try to rush through the hours. Some work overtime and some will not complete a quota.” Rushing through a shift can result in injuries, housekeepers report. An analysis of 23 legacy Starwood hotels over nine cities showed that Legacy Starwood hotels had a 49 percent increase in the number of injuries between 2013 and 2017.
“We have policies and practices for dealing with excessively dirty rooms, where managers can assign extra help or extra time once such a room is brought to their attention,” Marriott’s Flaherty countered.
Programs Can Result in Fewer Work Hours
UNITE HERE says the “choice” programs are reducing housekeeper hours in many cases. “If a large group comes in and requests Green Choice, those lower in seniority lose hours,” Appel-Kraut says. The “Marriott’s Dirty Choice” report cites a study of the Westin Copley in Boston. Sixty housekeepers participated in a 2018 survey. Ninety-one percent of more recently hired housekeepers—those with 10 or fewer years on the job—reported being left off the schedule or losing hours because of the Green Choice program.
“The Make A Green Choice Program has been in place in one form or another for more than a decade and our goal has always been to ensure our housekeepers do not lose their jobs because of the program,” Flaherty says. “Managers balance the workload of the team to ensure each housekeeper is getting the correct allotment of rooms/hours and ‘check-out’ rooms. We’re constantly working with our housekeepers and managers to make sure this balance is right. We also understand that rooms that have been passed over for cleaning may require additional effort to clean than a room that’s been serviced every day.”
While created to limit guest needs for a change in linens, towels, etc., the “choice” programs are not always fully followed by guests, Appel-Kraut says. Guests still end up asking housekeepers or others for extra linens or towels or more. Wet towels can be heavy, Appel-Kraut adds.
At press time, strikes have been settled in Oakland and Detroit, but housekeepers were still on strike at Marriotts in San Francisco, Boston, Hawaii, San Diego, and San Jose. In addition to the “choice” programs, other main issues are economics and new technology.
Marriott declined to comment regarding the use of harmful cleaning products, how it is working with UNITE HERE to address housekeeper concerns, and whether it is considering changes to the housekeeping opt-out programs. “We do not negotiate in the press and therefore will not be commenting on the specifics,” Flaherty says.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.