SEATTLE - Hotel housekeepers in Washington and several other states say it's time to break the silence about what they claim is the routine sexual misconduct they face in their jobs. Their campaign comes in the wake of two high-profile alleged sexual assaults on housekeepers in New York City.
Organizer Jasmine Marwaha with the hotel workers union UNITE HERE, Seattle, says it's an issue that's going to come up in the next few months, as seven hotel chains in Washington renegotiate their agreements with workers.
"Some of the things can be corrected by hotel policy, some can't. But one of the things that we're going to be fighting for in our contract negotiations this summer is more respect for the workers and policies that are designed to increase worker safety."
After 29 years on the job as a hotel housekeeper in Seattle, Nith Lewis knows the problem all too well. She says some situations are frightening, some just annoying. She describes a recent incident, when a guest called to ask for maid service and she was sent to the room.
"When I turn around, he's just laid out in the bed with no clothes on. I close the door, and I go down to tell security what happened. I said, 'If the guest calls up there, I refuse to clean the room.'"
Some UNITE HERE locals are proposing steps like not sending women to guest rooms alone at night, having them work in pairs or teams, and asking hotels to do away with traditional skirt-style uniforms for women in favor of a pants-and-tunic style.
UNITE HERE says the problem is not confined to particular cities or hotels, and that housekeepers are sometimes reluctant to report guests because of the prevailing hotel industry attitude that "the customer is always right," and they don't want to be seen as troublemakers.