When you attend a library conference, do you think much about your hotel housekeepers? If you are like me, you probably do not. I think most of us are used to having our beds made and bathrooms cleaned and think little of it, unless we actually see the maids (usually women) with their carts in the hallways.
According to a front page article in the Chicago Tribune today, the work of housekeepers is getting harder. The hotels are in a war to attract guests, and they are adding amenities, such as extra thick mattresses, more pillows, soft robes for guests, more coffees, more teas, more cups, more water glasses, and more toiletries. I know this is true. At our LITA hotel in Houston three years ago, we had heavily promoted new beds; I think the literature in the rooms called our beds “sleep systems.” At my PLA hotel in Seattle I had use of a soft bathrobe and at least ten pillows in my room. In my hotel bathrooms I always find not only soap and shampoo but also lotions, mouthwashes, and special sponges. Who sees that all these items are in the set in nice little baskets on clean bathroom counters? The housekeepers do.
Oscar Avila, the Tribune reporter, points out that most hotel chains are increasing the duties lists for their housekeepers at the same time they are decreasing housekeeping staffs. The maids are required to do more rooms on their shifts, while lifting heavier mattresses and straightening more layers on every bed. Is anyone noticing this demand on housekeeping? Is anyone noticing the increase in housekeeper injuries? Is anything being done to help the housekeepers?
The Illinois legislature passed a law requiring hotels in Cook County (why not the rest of the state?) to guarantee that housekeepers get two paid fifteen minute breaks during the work day. The corporations that run the hotel industry are very upset and their lawyers were able to get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order, preventing the law from being enforced. Marc Gordon of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association said that hotels can not stay profitable if they give breaks to their maids.
I think this is ridiculous. Breaks should be basic employee rights. Why are hotel housekeepers being exempted? Is this an example of gender, class, and racial injustice? Are shareholder dividends more important than the health and welfare of employees?
What can librarians do?
As individuals, we should be considerate of the maids. We should agree to reuse our towels and sheets when we are staying several days. We should not leave out things that maids have to move when vacuuming. We should not collect publicity from conference vendors just to dump it in the room. If there is a way to leave a tip for the maid, we should do so. In the surveys we complete after our stays, we should always say that we support breaks for maids.
As a profession we should ask hotels to verify that their housekeepers are guaranteed breaks before we book them for our conferences. If they do not, we should seek other hotels, if possible. Our conference planners should look into this.
If we own stock in these corporations, we should raise our voices at stockholder meetings. We should tell our elected officials that we always support employee rights.
Any other ideas?
Avila, Oscar. "Hotels Make Beds Cozier, But Maid's Day Lot Tougher." Chicago Tribune. August 23, 2005. Page 1.