Sunday, January 01, 2006

Injured Hotel Housekeepers Losing Pillow Fights

Ah, the pleasure of travel! After fighting the lines at the airports, the security, getting to my destination, finally I get to collapse into those huge, luxurious fluffy beds, "not to mention the amazing array of pillows, duvet covers, down comforters, 300-thread-count sheets, shams, bed skirts, bolsters and bed scarves that need daily tending." Ah, paradise.

But someone always has to come along an ruin everything. Turns out all those articles of comfort are also implements of torture as they're straining the backs of the housekeepers who have to change the beds.
"The hardest for me is the duvet -- trying to change it, just one person," said Lisa Herrmann, who's been a housekeeper for eight years at the Oakland Marriott. "And the mattress is too heavy. It makes my back hurt."

Herrmann, who takes Aleve almost daily and ices her arms after work each day, is not alone, nor is she simply whining. Federal statistics show it's a real problem, and a study published in July by UCSF researchers found 3 out of 4 hotel housekeepers experience "very severe" pain.

"It is not minor; it really is a lot of pain these people are suffering," said the study's author, Dr. Niklas Krause, associate professor of medicine at UCSF. "Nobody should be working in conditions like that."

The problem, according to union representatives, doctors and those charged with keeping those beds made, is housekeepers are being forced to clean the same number of rooms per shift even as the beds grow ever bigger and more elaborate, requiring more time to change. The housekeepers are hurting themselves trying to keep up.
This is the what the housekeepers go through to keep me in luxury:
At the Oakland Marriott, where housekeepers make about $12 an hour, the women -- and housekeepers are almost exclusively women -- must clean 16 rooms per day. For Herrmann, that means changing 26 beds, each of which has five to seven pillows, a duvet and all the accessories.

Each bed takes 14 to 15 minutes to change, she said, leaving just 15 or 16 minutes to vacuum, dust and mop; empty the trash; replace the myriad soaps and lotions; and clean the mirror, tub, sink, toilet, walls and faucets. Plus she has to reload her cart with fresh linens from the laundry room, which requires a time-consuming trip to the hotel basement.

It's all part of a mad dash by hotels to capitalize on travelers' obsessive quest for a luxurious night's sleep. Each is upping the ante with more pillows, bigger mattresses and fluffier accoutrements.

And it's even worse in other parts of the country, where housekeepers -- who average about $8 an hour -- must clean as many as 19 rooms.

"These women are getting the hell beaten out of them," said Marcos Escobar, an organizer for the housekeepers union, Unite Local 2850, which is in negotiations with the Oakland Marriott and has made the rising number of injuries a top issue. "After five or 10 years, they're done. You can only last so long."

If a housekeeper can't keep up, she risks being reprimanded and possibly fired.


In the UCSF study, researchers found that 62 percent of hotel housekeepers had seen a doctor for their pain, and 84 percent were taking medication for pain they incurred at work.

They interviewed 941 hotel workers in Las Vegas and concluded that their injury rates are increasing because of the upgrades and having less time to do each task.
But the hotel managers think it's worth it. No price is too high to pay for the guest's pleasurable experience:
"Since we put in the new (bedding), satisfaction scores went up significantly, not just with the beds but with the whole experience," [Marriott spokesman John Wolf] said. "It tells you how much people value a good night's sleep."

"It's more stylish, more luxurious, and much, much more comfortable," he said. "People are much more attuned to that look, thanks to HGTV (Home & Garden Television), and expect to find it on the road."


"Boomers are getting older, their bodies are changing, and they have money to spend," Shark said. "There is an overall public awareness of the role sleep plays in the quality of life, and certainly, a good mattress plays a role in that."
Yeah, damn it, I'm getting old, I work hard, my back is stiff after rolling my suitcase through the airport all by myself, and you should see how my body's changed over the years (well, maybe you shouldn't). So just quit your complaining. If you don't like your job, go get another one.

But first, bring me some more towels.