We’re all in this bed together

About once a month, I travel for my job. Most of the time, I stay in places that're one or two steps above a Motel 6, but about two or three times a year, I'm lucky enough to get put up in a really nice hotel. You know, the kind of place where you can't find the hair dryer right away. Or it takes you a while to figure out how to turn the shower on. The kind of place with a flat screen tv and free wireless internet access, and lavender spray for the pillows.

I had such an opportunity last week, and it reminded me of something I've been meaning to blog about, a campaign that the hotel workers' union is running called Hotel Workers Rising. You may have seen something about their campaign kickoff, a tour that featured Danny Glover and John Edwards.

One of the best things about those luxury rooms, of course are the beds. Beds with five and six pillows, with 300-thread-count sheets, with heavy duvets. The union's campaign is focusing on those beds, because while the beds (and the rooms) have become more and more luxurious, the housekeeping staff hasn't had an easy time of it. The housekeepers who have to make these beds still have the same number of rooms to clean, but the work of cleaning them has gotten much more complicated. The bedding is much heavier, and the mattresses are hard to lift. Housekeepers suffer a higher than average rate of work-related-injury, because they're trying to do more work in the same amount of time.

The hotel workers' union, UNITE HERE!, isn't trying to get rid of the beds, but they are trying to make the jobs better for the housekeepers. That involves not only increasing the wages, but also making sure that they are able to work safely. They want ergonomic training, and a reduction of the quota of rooms, so that the housekeepers aren't rushing to get their jobs done, resulting in more injuries. The industry is experiencing record profits, they've bounced back after the losses of 9/11, but the staffing levels in the hotels haven't come back.

This is a women's issue, it's a mom's issue. We all know what it's like to have too much to clean, to be constantly rushing to get everything done. Every mother (and I assume every father) who reads this blog, whether she's a working mom or a SAHM, understands that struggle.  Check out the website. Sign up for their email list. And most of all, when you're planning your summer vacation in the U.S. or Canada, don't stay at a hotel on their boycott list (or as they put it on their site, "Sleep with the Right People").

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May 20, 2006. politically motivated.

9 Comments

  1. Sandra replied:

    I don’t stay in hotels very often, but the latest one in Jeju, Korea, had a card in the room asking visitors to indicate whether or not they wanted their sheets changed each day. Maybe this is a standard option, but I hadn’t seen it before. It seems such a waste to change the sheets every single day. They presented it as a pro-environment option, but it’s also a labor savings.

  2. kdubs replied:

    I had. NO. idea. Man do I live in a bubble or what. Thank you.

  3. fidget replied:

    I have never considered the new luxury beds (of course that could be due to the last 8 years being hotel room free), but it only makes sense that with teh heavier more luxurious bedidng that the job would get hearder and injuries would rise. Thank you for pointing out a cause that i wouldhave otheriwse been totally obvlious too

  4. chip replied:

    my first full time job was when I was 15, I worked (more than full time actually) all summer and then into the school year at a Holiday Inn. It is hard work, and I remember the management as really being jerks, especially to the maids (my job was to gather up all the dirty bedding and towels from outside each room and bring it to the laundry room, and sometimes to fold the stuff up and then deliver it back to each maid). It’s a hard job, and I can imagine that the trends you write about here are making it even harder. Thanks for the boycott link.

  5. Cat replied:

    Thanks for the links and the info. I hadn’t heard about this, either. I’ll be glad to support them. It’s not only a women’s issue and a mom issue, it’s a human issue.

  6. Twiss replied:

    Right after I finished reading “Nickeled and Dimed” I saw an article in the LA Times about this very thing and the Heavenly Bed that was causing problems for the staff at the Los Angeles area Westin hotels. Now, when I make travel arrangments for the three people I work for who actually travel, I won’t let them stay where this is an issue. I’ve explained it to them and they are on board. I’m not sure if I would have paid attention if the two parts (N&D, LA Times) had happend further apart but it was a helpful coincidence.

  7. Anjali replied:

    Thanks for bringing up such an important issue. I love that you often write about the good that unions do. Unions get such terrible press, and I don’t believe the average American non-union worker sees the good in unions because of the bad press. Go HERE!

  8. Kate the Shrew replied:

    Thanks for the link, it is an important issue. It’s sad that unions are nearly dead. We barely even got a century of actual worker protecton in America. Someday, maybe there’ll be a virtual Haymarket Riot for the 21st century.

    I worked as a hotel housekeeper one summer in college, which I actually didn’t mind too badly, as I didn’t have to pretend to be perky for customers. However, they were definitely taking advantage of their workers, and while I was a) educated enough to work around that, and b) had the safety net of parents to beg money from if I’d gotten fired for it, most of the workers were immigrants without those luxuries.

    The room quota was supposed to be 16 rooms a day, but during the busiest weeks or if anyone was out sick, that increased. I think my max was 20 suites (3 beds each) in an 8 hour day.

  9. Doppelganger replied:

    I don’t stay in hotels very often, but the latest one in Jeju, Korea, had a card in the room asking visitors to indicate whether or not they wanted their sheets changed each day. Maybe this is a standard option, but I hadn’t seen it before. It seems such a waste to change the sheets every single day. They presented it as a pro-environment option, but it’s also a labor savings.

    In Canada, many larger hotel chains offer this option, as well as the option to hang-dry and re-use your towels. They also don’t replace the partially-used toilet tissue roll with a full one. I’d always thought of these things as envionmental issues, but you’re right: they also save unnecessary labour.

    I’m off to bookmark that list of hotels to boycott now…

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