By Enrique Lopetegui
An unprecedented study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine indicates that female Hispanic hotel housekeepers are 1.5 times more likely to be injured than men, and almost twice as likely to be injured than their white female counterparts. Hispanic and Asian males were about 1.5 times more likely to be injured on the job than white males.
“This is the first study in the hotel industry to ever look at the difference between injury rates by race and gender,” Pamela Vossenas, health and safety expert for the labor union Unite Here, which co-authored the report, told the Queblog by phone. “That hasn’t been done before. We were able to make distinctions by gender, race, and job title.”
“Unite Here union obtained the data and then sent it to the university,” said lead-author Dr. Susan Buchanan, from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, during a November 19 press teleconference. “Unite Here personnel were co-authors of the study and played and integral role in every step, mainly in the data collection, but there were discussions all along regarding how the data analysis was going, what we wanted to focus on and which things we wanted to present on the tables, etc.”
During the same press teleconference, Vossenas added that Unite Here’s participation in the report was vital because the labor union had information no one else had access to.
“Since we represent hotel workers, we have the rights to the demographic information and the rights to the injury information,” Vossenas said. “So we were able to bring those two pieces together. That’s how we had access to the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] logs with the employer’s records of workplace injury and illness.”
Although the report, presented two weeks ago at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Philadelphia, doesn’t mention the companies involved in the study, Unite Here claims that the Hyatt chain had the highest injury rate, at 10.4 percent, while the Hilton chain had the lowest at 5.47 percent.
The report was based on a three-year study of 2,865 injuries at 50 unionized hotels, and came weeks after the QueQue reported on the San Antonio Grand Hyatt’s successful hiring of a union buster to discourage service workers attempts to form a union with the help of Unite Here (see The Grand Héctor).
“The excess risk among women probably reflects the fact that so many of them work in the very demanding job of room cleaner,” said report co-author Dr. Laura Punnett, from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, in a Unite Here press release. “The excess risk among Hispanic housekeepers compared to other housekeepers is more difficult to explain and requires further study.”
The study also concluded that housekeeping had the highest rate of injuries at 7.9 percent, 50 percent higher than all other hotel positions.
For María del Carmen Domínguez, a housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt, the report came in handy, but it was no surprise.
“[The Grand Hyatt] gives us 30 rooms to clean in seven and a half hours,” said Domínguez, who started feeling pain in her shoulder on August 31. “We had to finish by 4:30 p.m., because we were told we would not get paid any extra hours.” According to Vossenas, anything more than about 15 rooms is an excessive daily quota for housekeepers.
In early September, Domínguez felt pain in her shoulder, back, arm, and neck. The Hyatt sent her to the company doctor and assigned her to “light duty.”
“They told me I couldn’t lift five pounds or push 10 pounds, but asked me to go to the 20th floor to help a co-worker make the beds and clean the bathrooms.,” Domínguez recalled.
Despite her protests, Domínguez said the hotel insisted that they were following the doctor’s advice.
“To me, that was no ‘light duty,’ because I only had one working hand. But somebody in Human Resources told me ‘if you can’t use one hand, use the other.’”
So she decided to go to a different doctor.
“He immediately took me off work because he found a broken nerve and swelling in the shoulder and back, and a dislocated disk in the neck,” said Domínguez, who promised to show the QueQue copies of both the Hyatt’s and her own doctor’s medical records. “That’s where the pain comes from.” She hasn’t been paid in more than a month.
“[A person called Peggy Herrera] told me I don’t qualify for benefits,” said Domínguez. “She said the company’s doctor concluded that I’m ready to go back to work. But my own doctor says otherwise and I know I can’t hold my grandson or even comb my hair anymore. I continue my therapy, and the Hyatt sent its own doctor to observe what kind of therapy I’m receiving from my doctor. I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I want is my salary and an agreement. Thirty rooms is too much, and it’s not fair that we’re fired after three warnings if we don’t finish the rooms on time.”
In a press teleconference held on Thursday, the president of Unite Here speculated on the reasons why the Hyatt had the highest rate of injuries.
“Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they seem to make workers work faster and do more rooms,” John Wilhelm said in the press teleconference on November 19. “We hope very much that the hotel industry will work with us in a cooperative way to address this. We can’t except to build a service sector economy in the 21st century in the United States and Canada if one of the things that happens to people who show up to do what society expects from them wind up with these types of life-changing injuries. We’ve negotiated changes like smaller room quotas [with some hotels], but there’s a lot more that should be done. This should not be a subject of adversarial fighting. There’s enormous potential to make improvements really quickly if we work in a cooperative way.”
The Grand Hyatt and Peggy Herrera weren't available for comment.
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