privilege + importance of i-124

I recently calculated how much time I have been away from home since General Conference, it’s almost 5 weeks with 3 of those weeks spent living in two separate hotel rooms. 2 weeks in Portland and a few days shy of 1 week in Phoenix.

Last night I attended the Hotel Safety Summit used to launch Seattle’s I-124 campaign. UNITED HERE Local 8 is leading the charge to protect women and other hotel workers. What is I-124?

PROTECTION FROM SEXUAL HARASSMENT & ASSAULT

  • Provides panic buttons to workers and requires posting of anti-harassment policy in guest rooms.
  • Creates a standard réponse procedure for reports of harassment and assault including documenting such incidents, banning harassing guests, and giving workers advance notice when known harassers return.

PROTECTION FROM INJURY DUE TO INHUMANE HOUSEKEEPING WORKLOADS

  • Limits the guest room area a hotel housekeeper is required to clean in an eight hour shift to roughly fifteen rooms.
  • Improves housekeeper injury rates by reducing unsafe housekeeping workloads and slowing down the pace of work.

ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE FAMILY MEDICAL COVERAGE

  • Requires employers to either provide quality affordable family health insurance to low-wage employees or additional compensation to offset employee healthcare costs.
  • Ensures that all low-wage hotel workers in Seattle working for large hotels will have access to quality affordable family health insure at no more than 6% of annual income.

ACCESS TO BASIC JOB SECURITY

  • Gives existing hotel employees an opportunity to retain their jobs under a new employer.
  • Reduces disruptions and improves service in the hospitality industry by allowing experienced workers an opportunity to keep their jobs when ownership or management changes.

-Hotel Safety Summit flyer on I-124

I consider myself an advocate for all women, but as much as I have smiled, tipped, done my best to be respectful to the housekeeps, I have failed them. We have failed them.

The Summit featured a panel of women hotel workers who shared their stories. I learned that they are expected to clean 14-15 rooms per shift and are typically given 30 minutes. There is a stark difference between how many people are occupying the room. My heart fell as I remembered the times that I left a messy room during my 2 week stay in Portland, how much I appreciated the women I knew were cleaning up after me, but no idea about the realities of the work they were doing.

I learned that they were under constant pressure from managers to move quicker. That the housekeepers have to move mattresses by themselves. That per day, a housekeeper lifts 1000 lbs of linens. Finally, that the people who clean our hotel rooms have a higher injury rate than coal miners and construction workers. That the average family size of a hotel worker is 3 and they live on wages just a tad higher than the poverty rate.

The women who work in our hotels are majority women of color and immigrants, they need our protection and are not getting it. Safety is also imperative for these women and their employers are not providing it. Money takes precedence over the safety of the workers (even in unionized hotels which are 80% of those in Seattle).

In terms of safety the women on the panel continually stated that one never knows what is on the other side of the door when coming in to clean or for room service. From sexual assault, undressed guests, violence, racism, sexism, porn on screens, ordering prostitutes… and they have no way to call for help or backup. They aren’t always given radios, cell phones aren’t quick enough. That’s why panic buttons are included in I-124, in fact 95% of those surveyed by UNITED HERE Local 8 said they would feel safer if given panic buttons.

I-124 seeks to make the invisible, visible, something I have had to grapple with since last night in reconciling my privilege and complacency. If I am for women’s rights, I must support all women, women of color, women immigrants, and that’s why I am 100% supportive of this initiative. Seattle needs to protect its women, all women.

How do we move forward, what are the next steps in Seattle adopting I-124 into law? First step is to further educate yourself, visit www.seattleprotectswomen.org. The next step that I understand is that we need our Seattle City Council to vote to put this on our fall ballot, there were 3 city council members there, so it’s hopefully they should be able to have the majority in getting I-124 to Seattle voters. The last step, is to check in with your city council members and start talking with your friends and family.

It all comes down to getting the information out and making sure that the invisible are made visible. That we see our housekeepers, our hotel workers, and those I-124 are respected and treated with dignity, let’s pass this policy that provides tangible solutions that the workers need and want.

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