On a gray day in February last year, more than 100 hotel workers and supporters marched wearing bright red knitted hats with signs that read: CLEAN HOTELS SAVE JOB.
They marched in the heart of Washington, D.C., surrounded by luxury hotels and world-famous landmarks, to a familiar tune, chanting, “What do you want? Clean rooms! “When do we need it? “Every day.”
The request may have sounded straightforward: the D.C. Council extended a temporary order requiring hotels to clean their rooms daily unless a customer opted out. The council agreed to comply just a few days later.
This requirement is so crucial to the members of the union UNITE HERE that they have fought for it in the U.S.
On February 2, 2023, members of the hospitality union UNITE HERE will gather at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., to demand an extension of the daily room cleaning requirements in the District.
Andrea Hsu/NPRRooms that haven’t been cleaned for days
Before 2020, daily room cleaning wasn’t a significant concern. At the start of the pandemic, when fears about the transmission of COVID were high, many hotel customers refused to let housekeeping staff into their rooms. Hotels needed fewer workers because there were fewer rooms to clean.
Through collective bargaining agreements in certain places and legislative initiatives in other areas, the union has pushed for daily room cleaning to become standard practice to preserve jobs mainly held by women of color and ensure the cleaning task is not made more complicated than it is already.
What about a room which last had a good clean in days?
Chandra Anderson says, “The room was terrible the day you checked out.” She has seen overflowing garbage bins, piles of wet towels, and toilet paper scattered everywhere.
You always need to figure out what to expect.
Fighting in another popular location
The union concentrated its efforts this spring on Nevada, a crucial battleground.
According to the state’s visitors authority, Las Vegas has over 150,000 hotel rooms. Reno has thousands more hotel rooms.
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Nevada has passed a COVID law that protects hospitality workers from the virus, including paid time off to quarantine.
The requirement also included daily cleaning of the room.
It was the day when people used to wash their groceries before putting them away. The union cited research showing that COVID could survive for days on surfaces. It successfully argued for frequent and enhanced cleaning to be safer for guests and employees.
The times have changed.
The COVID Law was repealed by State Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop this spring. She is a Democrat and hails from Las Vegas.
Loop said at a hearing in May that it was time to retire the COVID policy on house cleaning, which had served its purpose and outlived its need.
The Nevada Assembly approved her bill on Thursday with a vote of 33 to 9. The bill now awaits the signature of the Governor.
The U.S. economy is facing more challenges due to the high level of inflation last month.
Culinary Union Local 226 of UNITE HERE, the Nevada affiliate, warned that hotels would cut back on cleaning rooms if they weren’t required. They will put profits before jobs.
Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the union, said: “We believe the industry is trying to change the behavior of guests based on this pandemic. We think that’s bad news for everyone.” “Customers still pay for first-class service and rooms, but they don’t get the first-class service.”
Hotels claim that it is all about the guest’s preferences.
In the earnings calls and industry presentations, hotel executives have proclaimed plans to reduce labor costs, including housekeeping.
And in the past, major hotel groups have offered guests loyalty points for forgoing room cleanings, calling it the environmentally-friendly choice. The union says this is greenwashing.
MGM Resorts International reports that more than 40% of guests at its Las Vegas hotels, including Bellagio, have declined to receive daily room cleaning in the last year.
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesAyesha Molina, senior vice president at MGM Resorts International, said that MGM was responding to the changing preferences of guests. Over 40% of MGM guests in Las Vegas have put up do not disturb signs or declined cleaning services over the last 12 months.
It doesn’t matter whether a guest is staying at the Bellagio or the Luxor. Molino, a state legislator, said that Molino’s observations showed that the behavior of our customers is consistent. The rate at which guests are declining housekeeping services is almost double that of before the pandemic.
Molino said that MGM does not encourage guests to take this option or advertise it.
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According to the latest figures of the Labor Department from May 2022, the number of people employed in hotel housekeeping has decreased by more than 20% since before the pandemic.
Both supply and demand are factors. Since the pandemic began, hotels have faced fierce competition to hire workers.
It’s not that we are trying to attract fewer. Molino explained that the problem is not that we cannot attract enough people.
Cleaning workers are concerned about more than just their jobs.
UNITE HERE believes the problem is cyclical. Working as a housekeeper is less appealing when there are fewer staff.
Housekeepers from the union testified that they are scared to work alone in a large resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Coworkers told stories of being assaulted by drunken and drugged customers.
Some people mentioned how difficult it was to clean up a room that had been left unclean for several days.
Rwanda Rogers, a housekeeper, told lawmakers the linen was heavy because of the many towels piled for days. “We have many party people who litter the rooms and it’s hard on my back.”
The union claims that the repeal by the Nevada legislature of the requirement to clean a room every day will not be the final word. As it has done elsewhere in the past, the association plans to bring up the issue at the end of its contract later this year.
“We believe these issues may be strikes, and we’ll fight for the best contracts for our Members,” said Pappageorge.