Why Hilton housekeepers need a union

Dec. 2017 Housekeeper Rosemen

Rosemene, a Hilton housekeeper from Haiti, speaks as part of the workers’ delegation to  hotel management.

By ERNIE GOTTA

In the coming weeks Hilton Hotel workers in Stamford, Conn., will likely face a serious attempt by the bosses to bust their campaign for union recognition. In past union drives the bosses have paid millions of dollars to law firms that specialize in union busting.

The owners of the hotel would rather pay millions of dollars to prevent a union from forming than give their workers the respect they deserve. Why? Right now, hotels in Stamford, Conn., the second largest market in New England, are bringing in big profits for the owners. They can afford to pay their workers a living wage, but they’re too greedy to concede a few bucks.

Housekeepers, consisting of mostly immigrant workers, represent a major portion of the hotel’s labor force. They work their fingers to the bone and have little to show for it. Housekeepers are some of the most exploited sections of the hospitality industry.

When you stay at a hotel how often do you interact with the staff? Do you notice the workers who clean your rooms? Are you one of the 32% of Americans who don’t tip the housekeepers? You may want to reconsider. The starting wage for non-union Hilton housekeepers in Stamford is roughly $10 per hour. In Stamford, Hilton housekeepers must often clean over 30 rooms in an eight-hour shift.

Every day, hotel housekeepers across the country are punching in to work with little sleep after working two or three jobs. Most are immigrant workers and women. The racial and gender aspect of this struggle is important because there is a serious wage gap for women. The wage gap is even larger for women of color. Many are also quickly moving toward retirement age with no real safety net.

Some older housekeepers walk with a permanent limp from years of hard physical labor. If they do buy in to the company’s health-care plan, they must pay extremely high costs. Some workers talk about bringing home paychecks with little money, no money, or even owing money to the company!

Rosemene, a housekeeper from Haiti, said during the worker delegation to the general manager on Monday, Nov. 13, “I have no time for my kids, no time for my family, no time for myself. I have to work three jobs.”

Housekeepers are the backbone of the hospitality industry, yet they are often treated with disrespect and poor wages. A housekeeper who cleans 30 rooms a day, five days a week for a year, when the hotel sells the room on average for $127.69 per night (the U.S. average; Stamford is likely a bit higher) brings in nearly $1 million for the hotel owners in that year. The owners act like scam artists, paying out big dividends to their investors and pocketing profits while paying poverty wages, roughly $22,000 a year, to their housekeepers.

Yrvanne, another Hilton housekeeper, said, “I need the union because conditions are worse than you can imagine. There’s no respect, no good benefits, and after 30 years of hard work I’m still not making enough. The health care is a killer, and the bosses are always adding more work.”

What do union housekeepers make? In union hotels like the Hilton in Hartford, Conn.—just 90 minutes from Stamford—the starting wage is over $17 per hour, and that includes quality affordable health care. The bosses know that with the workers united and fighting for a good contract they’ll take a hit in the profit margin. They can afford it but will spare no expense to maintain their greedy drive for profits.

The housekeepers and their coworkers will have to be ready for the bosses’ tricks and stand strong together. The workers are the union. Their victory will inspire other workers searching for a way forward out of the chaos and daily struggle under capitalism.