Hotel Workers Union Hosts Panel To Move Toward a Long Beach Ordinance to Protect Housekeepers from Excessive Workloads and Sexual Violence

21 Aug
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Audience before the panel discussion, on Thursday, Aug.17, on working conditions of hotel housekeepers; photo by Barry Saks

More than 150 people attended a panel discussion, as part of the Stand with Women Campaign on Thursday, Aug. 17, at the First Congregational Church, at 241 Cedar Ave, on women in the hotel industry, toward Long Beach adopting an ordinance to address sexual assault and workloads.

The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice, and UNITE HERE Local 11 sponsored the discussion.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, of the United Methodist Church, emceed with the panelists: Juana Melara, who is a hotel housekeeper; Nereyda Soto, who translated for Melara; M. Lorena Gonzalez, a citywide Seattle Council woman; Katherine Spillar, the Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Long Beach 1st District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez; and Maria Elena Durazo, who served as the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor from May 2006 to December 2014.

Besides the Long Beach Councilwoman Gonzalez on the panel, the other Long Beach council members in the audience were Vice Mayor and 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson, 2nd District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and 7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga.

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Bishop Mary Ann Swenson after introducing Katherine Spillar hands the mic to her, on Thursday, Aug. 17, for her to speak on the panel on hotel housekeepers in Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks.

The Bishop, who served as the Vice Moderator for the Central Committee of World Council of Churches, said, “I think it’s a very special time for us to stand with women, to support women in the workplace and to prepare ourselves to help people to inact the kinds of policies that will ensure dignity and safety for the working women…Unfortunately many of these women are in terrible working conditions and that subjects them…to working to long and also to the problems of sexual harassment.”

Spillar, who is also the Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine, said, “(T)hose of us who are the victims of discrimination or who are oppressed in the workplace banding together and organizing to push forward.  That is how change is made.”

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Maria Elena Durazo, on Thursday, Aug. 17, speaks on panel on housekeepers in the Long Beach hotel industry; photo by Barry Saks 

Durazo, who, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, has declared she is running for a California Senate seat in 2018, added, housekeepers must knock on doors and “hope the person who answers the door is not a sexual deviant.”

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Hotel housekkeper Juana Melara (left) with her translator Nereyda Soto (right) speaks, on Thursday, Aug. 17, on panel on working conditions in Long Beach hotel industry; photo by Barry Saks

Melara, who spoke in Spanish, in which Soto translated in to English, said she has been a hotel housekeeper for 22 years and that her workday she gets paid begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m.  However, she must get to work before 8 a.m. to prepare her cart, which her employer doesn’t consider as part of her work.  She said she cleans 14 or 15 rooms each day but she gets frustrated because at times she doesn’t have the necessary tools.

Once she had to work on her hands and knees because she didn’t have the needed tools.  She said she must lift the mattresses, which is heavier than her own body weight and sometimes a room may have more than one bed. Because of the stressful workloads, housekeepers are sometimes not aware of their surroundings, enabling hotel guests physically to take advantage of the housekeepers.

One time a guest tied a worker up with a telephone cord, locked her in the room and sexually assaulted the worker.  The worker left in an ambulance and never returned.

Once a guest asked Melara for a massage and another time a male guest exposed his “private part” to her and feared she would be raped.  Security arrived 20 minutes later.  By the time security came, he had exposed himself two other coworkers and was never caught.

Melara received a standing ovation.

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Seattle Councilwoman M. Lorena Gonzalez speaks, on Thursday, Aug. 17, on panel regarding working conditions for housekeepers in Long Beach hotel industry; photo by Barry Saks

The Seattle Councilwoman, who is also a former civil rights attorney, said she grew up as a migrant farm worker, picking fruit, cherries, apples and asparagus that her family could not afford.  She added, “(T)he guest is not always right.  Rape is never right…That’s about power.  It’s about who has it and who doesn’t.”  She spoke about the Seattle law protecting hotel workers.  She said, “If somebody has been raped or somebody is in the process of about to be raped, it is common sense to have a panic button to make sure that they can get the help they need.”

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Lena Gonzalez, who represents the 1st District on Long Beach City Council, speaks. on Thursday, Aug. 17 on panel regarding working conditions in hotel industry; photo by Barry Saks

Long Beach Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, said tourism in Long Beach is “looking good,” hotel occupancy is “80 percent,” which “7 percent above the national average,” and “the port has had the best cargo forecast in decades.”  However, she said, “49 percent of hotel housekeepers have reported incidents of sexual harassment” and hotel housekeepers in the service sector have the highest rate of workplace injury.   

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Photo by Barry Saks

                      

One Response to “Hotel Workers Union Hosts Panel To Move Toward a Long Beach Ordinance to Protect Housekeepers from Excessive Workloads and Sexual Violence”

  1. Leanna Noble Monday, August 21, 2017 at 11:38 am #

    Great article and the visual of pillow cases turned into strong women’s voices for REAL justice!

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