When Working Mothers Strike…

This morning thousands of Hyatt hotel workers across the country walked out on strike demanding justice on the job for unionize and non-union hotel workers.[1] Many of these workers are women who work as housekeepers in the hotels. Hotel work is highly gender segregated with housekeeping as an almost solely female job. In non-union hotels, like the Hilton Long Beach, housekeepers are given only 15 minutes to change bedding, scrub the bathroom floor, vacuum, empty the trash, and change the linens in addition to cleaning up the scattered belongings of the hotel guest or cleaning the room for a new guest. On some days, a non-union housekeeper is expected to clean as many as 30 rooms a day. Imagine every 15 minutes starting this process all over again for 8 hours or more a day 5 or 6 days a week.

15 minutes! It takes me over 30 minutes to clean my bathroom alone.

In union hotels, housekeepers do the same backbreaking work but their union contract outlines the conditions. Unionized housekeepers cleaner fewer rooms during a shift, take mandated breaks, and are allowed more time to clean the rooms.

One could argue that housekeeping is the toughest job not only in the hotel industry, but in the service industry as a whole.[2] Workers face injuries that often go unnoticed to the naked eye such as repetitive stress injuries or injuries from heavy lifting. Research shows that women are 50% more likely to be injured on the job than men in hotels. And, of 600 housekeepers interviewed in one study, 91% of them reported suffering work-related pain. In fact, studies show that hotel workers have an injury rate 25% higher than all service workers.[3]

And for Hyatt housekeepers, this means working in pain on a daily basis. A study of 50 hotel properties from 5 different companies published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine revealed that Hyatt housekeepers had the highest injury rate of all housekeepers studied when compared by hotel company. [4] Yet, for many housekeepers, they continue to work trying to manage their pain with over-the-counter medications.

What does all of this mean for housekeepers once they punch out at the end of the day?

The burden of the second-shift is all the more pronounced for housekeepers. As Arlie Hochschild explored in her path breaking 1989 book The Second Shift, working mothers face the double burden of unpaid labor at home after leaving their job. And, for housekeepers, this means caring for their families in pain. The work of caring for our families – the work of mothering – requires patience, time, love, and energy.

For so many working mothers, this strike is not just about respect and justice at work, it is about the right to fulfill their jobs as mothers – to be present for their families. This is why – a union job is not only good for workers, it is good for the community as a whole.

[1] http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/

[2] http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/pdf/Injury_Paper.pdf

[3] http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/injuries/

[4] http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/media/fact_sheet_housekeepers_are_getting_hurt.pdf

About Emily E. LB. Twarog

Emily is a professor of labor studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She spent over fifteen years working in the food service industry and was a member of UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago prior to getting her PhD in American History. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two sons.

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