Following countless complaints by hotel workers of sexual harassment at the hands of guests, the Hotel Trades Council has landed on a method to better protect its members.
Small, portable panic buttons have been issued to housekeepers, who usually work alone and behind closed doors, to alert hotel security in the event that they feel unsafe.
In a video produced in New York City by the BBC, hotel housekeeper Ha Chhao Yi discloses she has been sexually harassed on three separate occasions — once by a male guest who was completely naked, and another time by a man who was wearing a robe and masturbating. But with three children to support, she fears that lodging a formal complaint will jeopardize her job. She says the introduction of panic buttons has her feeling “100 percent safe.”
The significant inequity between a hotel’s workers and its guests exacerbates the perilous situation that the victims of harassment find themselves in. “There’s that imbalance between someone who’s that invisible back of the house worker who’s cleaning rooms, and someone who can afford to spend thousands of dollars a night on a Manhattan hotel room,” says the Hotel Trades Council’s Richard Maroko.
The strongly unionized hotel workers gave the council leverage to exert pressure on employers to install the systems, “so that women didn’t have to just normalize and accept these instances of harassment any longer,” the council’s Julia Rybak added.
In September, multiple hotel brands — including major chains Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental and Marriott — announced they would install the safety devices in all their hotels across the country by 2020, according to industry publication Skift.
Juana Melara, a Long Beach, California-based hotel housekeeper who has worked in the hotel industry for more than two decades, told Skift that the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement had been instrumental in the introduction of improved safety provisions. “Laws are changing for the better of employees,” she said. “It’s about time. The famous people spoke up and broke their silence about what happened to them and that helped too. It’s all levels of society where this happens — not just housekeeping. It’s everywhere you go.”
Watch the full BBC video below: