Los Angeles hotel workers fight for panic buttons amid sexual harassment | California

Sonia Molina Sanchez, worked as housekeeper at the celebrity hotspot hotel Chateau Marmont for 10 years. She will never forget the night she was sexually harassed by a guest.

“I knocked on a guest’s door and went inside, and as soon as I went inside something didn’t feel right,” said Molina Sanchez. “The guest was lying in bed as if he was about to go to sleep. I turned around and looked at him, and when I looked at him he was staring at me while masturbating. I felt violated, really disturbed, and just completely in shock.”

She reported the incident to her management, but nothing was done. The guest was permitted to continue staying at the hotel.

Molina Sanchez was laid off during the beginning of the pandemic and is still waiting to be recalled to her job. She is one of many hotel workers in Los Angeles advocating for a city-wide ballot petition that would mandate safety protections for hotel workers, limit workloads, set wage standards, and extend worker retention rules.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, hotel workers have been fighting for hotels to provide workers with panic buttons to protect them from sexual harassment and assault on the job. The ballot initiative would mandate that all hotels in LA to institute panic buttons and have a security guard on site to respond to any calls from workers, similar to ordinances passed in several surrounding cities.

“Had I had a panic button back then, I would have been able to press it to get the help that I needed. But I didn’t have it, [because] it wasn’t offered to me,” she added.

Martha Moran, a housekeeper at Chateau Marmont for 33 years, who is also still waiting to be recalled back to her job and has a pending claim against the hotel over a statewide recall ordinance, also says she experienced sexual harassment at work.

“I had an experience where a guest tried to take advantage of me, tried to hug me, kiss me, get me to sleep with him. Having the protection of what a panic button would offer is necessary,” said Moran. “It’s been increasingly difficult for me to get through the pandemic. I gave 33 years of my life to that hotel.”

A spokesperson for Chateau Marmont said the hotel currently provides panic buttons to housekeepers, but did not specify when those were brought in. The spokesperson said the hotel already adheres to most of what is proposed in the ballot initiative, and that 40 workers have been recalled to work so far.

They added in an email: “We do not tolerate mistreatment of our employees and take all claims of harassment seriously.”

The petition, which was submitted to the city of Los Angeles to qualify for the November ballot, received more than 100,000 signatures, a record for a ballot petition, according to Unite Here Local 11, a union representing more than 32,000 workers in the hospitality industry in the Los Angeles area. The union is hoping the Los Angeles city council adopts the initiative in lieu of a ballot amendment, given the widespread public support for it.

The initiative would also extend minimum wage requirements of $17.64 an hour from hotels with 150 or more rooms to any hotels with 60 or more rooms, and cap daily workloads assigned to housekeepers by square footage.

“Our decision as a union to move this initiative was to make the economic recovery more about workers’ needs rather than corporate greed,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11.

Petersen said the hospitality industry received billions in Covid relief funds as many workers lost their jobs, income, or work hours, and while hotel corporate executives maintained or increased their multi-million dollar salaries. He also said several hotel companies have exploited the pandemic to lay off workers and rehire new ones without seniority at lower wages, and cut labor costs through reduced staffing.

“Workers need to go back to work and to conditions that are fair, safe and secure,” he added.

In response to the pandemic, many hotels eliminated daily room cleaning for guests, which hotel workers have criticized – many hotels have kept these policies in place in order to cut labor costs while increasing workloads for current staff. The ballot initiative would prevent hotels from implementing policies where guest rooms are not cleaned daily by staff.

Cristina Velasquez, a housekeeper at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hollywood for four years, said daily room cleaning was cut at the beginning of the pandemic, where hotel rooms were only being serviced on the fourth or fifth day. Hilton executives have commented publicly about their desire to permanently cut labor costs in the wake of the pandemic.

Velasquez was initially laid off in March 2020 due to Covid, and was brought back to work in the September. She and her co-workers successfully formed a union and won union recognition in November last year.

Velasquez said: “Because Hilton eliminated automatic cleaning, there are days now where I walk into a room and it takes 45 minutes to an hour to clean because it hasn’t been serviced in days. When we serviced them every day it would take half an hour.”

A spokesperson for Hilton did not comment specifically on the ballot initiative, but said in an email: “Daily housekeeping remains available to our guests, free of charge, across our hotels around the world.

“Recognizing some guests may have varying levels of comfort with someone entering their rooms after they have checked in, Hilton offers guests the choice and control to request the housekeeping services they desire.”

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