Friday, April 21, 2006

Heavenly Beds Send Hotel Workers To Hell

Ah, Heavenly Beds. Super thick mattresses, feather-filled duvets, incredibly soft sheets, decorative bed skirts, goose-down pillows -- five per bed!
"This has proven to be a very positive thing with the hotel consumer," said Joseph A. McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. "People have said they've gotten the best sleep they've ever had."
The beds may be heavenly, but as Steve Greenhouse reports in the New York Times, angels don't make them up every day; flesh and blood hotel workers do. And not only is everything heavier, but even with more pillows, sheets, bathrobes, etc, etc, hotel workers are still expected to make up the same number of rooms every day.
"It's gotten harder," said Dolores Reyes, a 55-year-old housekeeper responsible for 16 rooms a day at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. "I've been trying to get my body used to it, but instead I'm feeling more pain. I've had to go to the doctor about my shoulders. That's what's killing me right now."


Reyes complained that some days she must make 25 double beds, a task that entails taking off, and putting on, 100 pillowcases. And then there are vacuuming, dusting, washing mirrors, scrubbing bathroom tiles, cleaning hair dryers, and stocking shampoo and soap.
But unlike hotel customers, hotel workers aren't taking it lying down:
The hotel workers' union, Unite Here, says injuries and the increased workload will be a major issue in negotiations this spring with Hilton, Starwood and other hotel chains. The union is threatening its biggest strike ever, one that might involve hundreds of hotels in New York, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles and Toronto.

"Our union has been increasingly pushed by our members in housekeeping to take a close look at this problem," said John W. Wilhelm, president of Unite Here's hospitality division. "The amenity arms race among the major hotel companies has dramatically increased the workload and the injury rate."
The work is taking its toll on the bodies of hotel workers.
Indeed, a union study based on statistics provided by the hotels has found that since 2002, when the amenities race began in earnest, the injury rate for housekeepers has climbed to 71 percent more than for all hotel workers, compared with 47 percent more beforehand.

Another study, by ergonomics professors at Ohio State University, concluded that housekeepers had so strenuous a job that they had a higher risk of back disorders than autoworkers who assemble car doors.

Still other research, by Orr Consulting, a firm dealing in ergonomics, found that the strain of making 12 or more king-size beds a day — many with 115-pound mattresses, 14-pound duvets and three sheets instead of two — exceeded federal occupational safety guidelines on lifting. And in a recent Unite Here survey of 622 housekeepers in Boston, Los Angeles and Toronto, 91 percent said they had work-related pain, 67 percent had gone to doctors because of that pain and 66 percent took medication for it.
American Hotel and Lodging Association President McInerney protests that "As hoteliers," he said, "we really respect what our workers do every day, because they take care of our guests. We don't want to do anything that endangers them."

Yeah, well you can't eat respect and it doesn't make beds.
Housekeepers, who earn $17,300 a year on average, invariably stoop over to lift mattresses, some of which are only 14 inches off the floor. They frequently twist their backs as they tuck in the sheets, often three of them rather than the two of yesteryear. Since it can take 10 to 12 minutes a bed, a housekeeper who makes 25 beds a day frequently spends four to five hours on the task, lifting mattresses 150 to 200 times.

"Almost every day I take Motrin 800," said Jackie Branson, 50, a housekeeper at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. "It's for my back and my shoulders, mostly."

After a day in which Ms. Branson has cleaned 14 rooms in the elite Towers section, she feels "whipped, beat, especially at the end of a bad day."

"Every time you turn around," she said, "there's something new that has been added."
Try that for a day or two, McInerney.

More Information
UNITE-HERE's "Hotel Workers Rising" website is here.