Skift Take

Unite Here's push to maintain housekeeping services on a daily basis at hotels could protect many jobs. But cash-strapped hotel owners may not have the finances to make it work until demand returns.

Days after the American Hotel & Lodging Association called on the Trump administration and governors to enact a mask mandate across all 50 states to combat the rising spread of coronavirus, one of the largest hospitality labor unions says the overdue move doesn’t go far enough in protecting workers.

Unite Here, a U.S. and Canada hotel worker union, Tuesday praised the AHLA for recommending both hotel employees and guests wear masks in public spaces. Hotel companies like Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt have since responded with their own company-wide mask mandates to be enforced later this month. But Unite Here argues masks are only one part of a heightened safety plan that should protect workers.

“It’s long overdue. We’ve been pushing this since the spring, and we’vebeen extremely frustrated that both federal and state governments and our industry was slow to respond,” Unite Here International President D. Taylor said. “There’s no difference from workers and guests in this sense. The virus doesn’t just stay with workers or just with guests.”

Some of Unite Here’s safety recommendations sync with those of the AHLA and hotel brand standards: frequent cleanings of public spaces, the use of personal protective equipment, and practicing social distancing with guests and employees. But others — namely a call for daily housekeeping in guest rooms — directly contradict the industry group’s own cleaning standard.

Unite Here’s cleanliness demands are about raising U.S. and Canadian hotel cleaning standards to those in Asian markets like China and Singapore, Taylor said.

“Haven’t we learned already about what happens if you cut corners and don’t do the kind of cleaning we’re advocating?” he added in reference to the rising case count in the U.S.

While the AHLA recommends frequent cleanings of public spaces throughout the day, the industry group calls for guest room housekeeping to be limited to between stays rather than daily servicing while the room is occupied. Hotel companies like Hilton still clean rooms daily at their upscale brands outside the Americas and at all brands in China while allowing guests at other properties to decide whether or not to have daily housekeeping.

“The hotel industry moved quickly to develop and release industry-wide precautions and protocols back in May—which were reviewed and approved by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]—in response to the public health crisis,” an AHLA spokesperson said via email. “The CDC’s recommendations include minimizing person-to-person interactions.”

But Unite Here wants daily housekeeping to remain an industry standard.

The World Health Organization noted in late March that programs where guests could voluntarily forego housekeeping services should be suspended in order to maximize the health and safety of staff and guests. But limiting housekeeping to between-stay cleanings reduces any potential exposure risk to hotel employees and guests, industry thinking goes.

“That’s complete malarkey,” Taylor said of the industry argument. “It’s an economic move. Anybody who portrays it any other way isn’t telling the truth.”

The labor organization pointed to a legal battle in San Francisco as an example the hotel industry is lobbying for less cleaning, not more, during the pandemic.

The AHLA, the Hotel Council of San Francisco, and the California Hotel and Lodging Association filed a lawsuit Monday against the City of San Francisco over a recently passed ordinance mandating daily in-room cleanings. The industry groups argue the ordinance adds an unnecessary cost burden on cash-strapped hotel owners at a time when travel demand is severely low.

“The San Francisco Healthy Buildings ordinance contradicts the advice of the CDC and health experts and jeopardizes the safety of guests and employees by mandating increased interactions, at a time when we should be doing the opposite,” the AHLA spokesperson said in a statement to Skift. “It also goes against what travelers want and expect from hotels in this new era. A majority of frequent travelers do NOT want daily room cleaning, and 65 percent say they would be uncomfortable with housekeeping entering their room without advanced permission.”

The industry group cautioned the ordinance and its ensuing costs would force San Francisco hotels already struggling with limited revenue to remain closed. But Unite Here says overturning the ordinance would eliminate even more hotel jobs. Roughly 98 percent of the union’s more than 300,000 members lost their jobs due to the pandemic’s impact on travel.

“This is a way for a large number of workers, a large number who are brown and Black, to not have work. It has nothing to do with health and safety. If that was the case, why would they still have daily housekeeping for higher-end customers and high-end properties?” Taylor said. “These huge, gigantic multinational companies worth billions are, in my opinion, more interested in the PR of cleanliness than the reality of cleanliness.”

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Tags: ahla, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, unite here

Photo credit: One of the hotel industry's largest labor unions is refuting a corporate push to limit daily housekeeping in light of coronavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / Rawpixel

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