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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Abandonment of daily cleaning punishes hotel maids

HONOLULU ( Associated Press) — As guests checked out of a corner room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach, waitress Mirror Light picked up enough trash, including from under beds, to fill seven large bags.

She pulled back the sheets, dusted off the furniture, and removed layers of dirt from the toilet and bathtub. She even knelt down to pick up confetti from the carpet that a powerful vacuum cleaner had failed to suck up.

Like many hotels in the United States, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has canceled daily housekeeping, making a job that was already among the toughest in hospitality even more painful.

Industry experts say the abandonment of daily cleaning, a trend that gained momentum during the pandemic, is due to customer preferences. But others say it has more to do with profits and has allowed hotels to reduce the number of waitresses at a time when many of the workers, mostly immigrant women, are still not recovering from work lost during quarantines by the coronavirus.

Many waitresses who are still working say their hours have been reduced and they are being asked to do much more work in that time.

“It’s a big change for us,” said Espejo, 60, born in the Philippines, who has been cleaning rooms at the world’s largest Hilton for 18 years, except for the year she was laid off during the pandemic. “Now we have a lot of work. We can’t finish cleaning our rooms.”

Before the pandemic there were 670 cleaners in the establishment where Espejo works. More than two years later, 150 of them have not been rehired or work on a casual basis and spend every day, from 5:30 in the morning to 10 in the morning, waiting for a call that says there is work for them. Just a week ago, the number of temporary or non-reinstated employees was 300.

“This is all about putting more money in the pockets of owners by increasing the workload on front-line employees and eliminating jobs,” said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a hotel workers’ union.

Although some hotels began to experiment with reducing the frequency of cleaning on the grounds of sustainability, the idea became much more widespread at the beginning of the pandemic, when many hotels began to offer room cleaning only when requested by a guest, and in occasions only when he had been staying for a certain number of days, to encourage social distancing and other security protocols. Guests were asked to leave their trash outside their door and to call the front desk if they needed clean towels.

But even now that restrictions have eased and demand is up with the start of peak travel season, many hotels have maintained their new cleaning policy.

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A Hilton Hawaiian Village spokesman said no Hilton representative was available for an interview about those policies at its properties. Representatives from several hotel chains, including Marriott and Caesars Entertainment, either declined to be interviewed or did not respond to Associated Press requests for comment.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry group that includes hotel management firms, owners and brands among its members, said it had been the demands of the guests, not the profits of the establishments. , which had guided decisions about cleaning services in the pandemic.

“Many guests, to this day, don’t want people in their room during their stay,” he said. “Forcing something they don’t want on a guest is the antithesis of what it means to work in the hospitality industry.”

The pandemic changed the standard for most hotel guests who wanted daily cleaning, he said, and it’s not yet clear if the change will be permanent.

Housekeeping policy varies by hotel class, Rogers noted, and luxury establishments tend to offer daily housekeeping unless guests prefer otherwise.

Ben McLeod, of Bend, Oregon, and his family did not ask for housekeeping during their four-night stay at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on Hawaii’s Big Island in March.

“My wife and I actually never understood why there was daily cleaning (…) when it is not the case at home, and it is a waste,” he said.

He said that his children should keep their space tidy.

“I’m an organized person, so I get up and make my bed, so I don’t need someone else to make my bed,” she said.

Union hotel workers are trying to get the message across that canceling daily room cleaning hurts housekeepers and puts jobs at risk.

Martha Bonilla, who has worked for 10 years at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino in New Jersey, said she wants guests to ask for daily housekeeping, noting that it makes her job less of a hassle. Although New Jersey states are required by law to offer daily cleaning, some customers refuse it.

“Now, when I get home from work, all I want to do is go to bed,” said Bonilla, originally from the Dominican Republic and a single mother of a six-year-old girl. “I am physically exhausted.”

Housekeepers say partying guests, like the ones who left confetti in their room in Hawaii, aren’t the only ones leaving rooms filthy. Even with normal use, it’s much more difficult to return rooms that haven’t been cleaned in days to the sparkling, pristine state guests expect upon arrival.

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Elvia Angulo, a waitress at the Oakland Marriott City Center for 17 years, provides the main income for her family.

During the first year of the pandemic, he worked a day or two a month. He has gone back to 40 hours a week, but since rooms are no longer cleaned daily, the number of people working each shift has been cut in half, from 25 to 12.

“Thank God I have seniority here, so I get my five days back and my salary is the same,” said Angulo, 54, from Mexico. “But now the work is harder. If you don’t clean the room in five days, you have five days of dirt in the bathrooms. It’s dirt on dirt.”

Many waitresses are still not working enough hours to qualify for benefits.

Sonia Guevara, who has worked at a Seattle Hilton for seven years, highly valued the benefits of her job. But since she went back to work after 18 months, she is ineligible for health insurance.

“At first I thought about looking for a new job, but I think I want to wait,” he said. “I want to see if they change my hours at the hotel.”

There aren’t many other job options that fit with having two kids in school, she said.

Now the issue has reached the political debate. One of those who has brought it up is Hawaii state Rep. Sonny Ganaden, who represents Kalihi, a Honolulu neighborhood where many hotel workers live.

“Almost every time I talk to people at their door, I find someone who works in a hotel and then we talk about how they’re overworked and what’s going on and working conditions,” he said. “There are a lot of first- and second-generation immigrants who have basically been stranded by these requirements not to clean rooms daily.”

Ganaden is one of the lawmakers who proposed a resolution asking Hawaiian hotels to “immediately rehire or reinstate workers laid off or furloughed” by the pandemic.

If that’s not enough, Ganaden said he would be open to tougher measures, such as have been imposed elsewhere.

The Washington, DC, city council passed emergency legislation in April requiring hotels in the district to clean rooms every day unless guests request otherwise.

Amal Hligue, an immigrant from Morocco, hopes that the rule will allow her to work more hours at the Washington Hilton where she has worked for 22 years. She needs it so her husband can have health insurance.

“I hope I have this month, because I worked last month,” he said.

At 57, he doesn’t want to look for a new job. “I’m not young, you know?” she said. “I need to stay”.

___

Snow reported from Phoenix.

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