The Good Fight: Labor Leads Way on Hotel Room Panic Buttons

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With echoes of the #metoo movement, hotel workers subjected to widespread sexual harassment are fighting back.

Last year, UNITE HERE! spearheaded organizing campaigns around the country, achieving major wins in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York, earning victories on the “panic-button” front. Major hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels Group, now provide “panic-buttons,” portable safety devices that allow employees to alert security personnel during dangerous situations.

“Seeing those victories around the country definitely helped us,” UNITE HERE! Local 11 co-president Ada F. Briceño said.

In Long Beach, California, Local 11 won big last Election Day, helping pass Measure WW after many months of organizing and an unsuccessful attempt to lobby City Council. The ballot initiative now requires all City of Long Beach hotels with more than 50 rooms to provide “personal emergency contact devices” for hotel workers.

“This provides some much needed protection to hotel workers, specifically housekeepers and the like who are often alone on the job, in danger and are subjected to unwanted sexual advances and harassment,” said Unite Here! Local 11 Co-President Susan Minato.

Local 11 went one step further with Measure WW, adding language to protect hotel workers from work overload with square footage-based restrictions on cleaning duties. It also establishes strict employer penalties for failed compliance.

“That was very important to us because the room attendants are some of the hardest working people in the hotel industry,” Briceño said. “They have such a tough, labor intensive job and it’s so easy to continue to give work out left and right without thinking about the toll on their bodies.”

Briceño added: “This was an issue that was very popular and had a lot of support with members and within the community.”

— Oren Peleg

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