The hotel industry needs a third-party verification system for the litany of new Covid cleaning and safety measures. In a crowded field of privatized competitors, it isn't clear if Unite Here Local 11's will become the industry standard — but hotel guests and workers should welcome its transparent approach.
It seemed like every hotel owner rolled out their own version of a heightened heath and cleaning protocol during the pandemic. But it was a giant question mark over who is ultimately in charge of enforcing the new rules.
A labor group is the latest to step up to that enforcer-in-chief responsibility.
Unite Here Local 11, the Southern California and Arizona chapter of the hospitality worker’s union, launched a grading system Thursday for worker and guest safety at hotels in Los Angeles County. Leaders with the organization as well as members say the initiative is necessary to keep workers and guests safe and provide transparency to people considering a hotel stay.
“You can have all the language you want, but if it’s not enforceable in the middle of the pandemic, we’re asking for trouble,” said Kurt Peterson, co-president of Unite Here Local 11. “The idea is to provide guests with this information so they can decide whether or not a hotel is a place they want to stay.”
Unite Here’s plan scores hotels on an “A” to “F” grading scale around four criteria: enforceable safety measures, healthcare, job recall rights, and the ability to speak up on the job without fear of retaliation.
Job recall rights include the ability for a furloughed worker to get their job back when demand returns as well as the right for a worker with health vulnerabilities to the virus to stay home until conditions improve and the pandemic is contained.
“The right to recall is pretty big for me,” said Yesenia Ortiz, a banquet server who works at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles as well as the Langham Huntington Pasadena. “Hopefully the first to get the call back [at the JW Marriott] are the 40 or so full-time ones, but what about the rest? I’m 102nd on the list, and at a hotel that doesn’t have a contract like this, that probably means I would lose my job.”
Some of the highest-scoring properties are those that have entered into a contract with the union that outlines each of the criteria. The JW Marriott, which has a contract, scored an “A” while the Langham, which does not, got an “F.”
“I love working for both hotels, but, when it comes to my rights, I’m a little fearful of [the Langham] because I’m not as protected,” Ortiz said. “I need both jobs because I’m struggling.”
The Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s 10-page contract, provided to Skift, includes language about proper cleaning materials and only vacuuming with HEPA-filtered machines to prevent potential spread of harmful air particles.
There are also outlined procedures surrounding testing, notifying employees if a colleague tests positive, and allowing paid time off if one has to quarantine. There is also language that protects workers against retaliation for speaking up if any of the measures outlined in the contract aren’t being followed. Unite Here 11 awarded the hotel with an “A” rating.
“More than anything, people need to know this agreement is enforceable as opposed to a guideline where, the best case scenario is a worker says guests are wandering around a lobby without masks on and it takes two days for an inspector with the hotel company to show up and say, ‘No they’re not,’” Peterson said.
Chateau Marmont, which Unite Here Local 11 gave low marks on each of its four criteria measures, received an “F.” The hotel does list enhanced safety measures on its website, but representatives with the Chateau Marmont did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
The JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot also received an “F” for a variety of infractions, including its lack of safety guarantees.
Blanca Guerrero, who has worked as a housekeeper at the hotel for 15 years, described a workplace where face masks and other protective equipment were hard to come by in the early days of the pandemic. The hotel also didn’t notify employees when a worker tested positive, Guerrero said. She only find out through coworkers.
While managers have since started to provide hand sanitizer, masks, and face shields to workers, Guerrero still sees infractions like social distancing not being enforced in some worker areas.
“We do feel frustrated, and I and my coworkers talk among each other that other hotels have safety regulations we don’t have here,” Guerrero said.
Columbia Sussex Corp., the Kentucky-based owner of the JW Marriott Santa Monica, did not respond to Skift’s request for comment.
But Marriott International does have its Commitment to Clean initiative as well as the Marriott Cleanliness Council that oversees all the heightened health and safety measures for the company’s hotels during the pandemic. Hilton rolled out a similar measure, CleanStay, that partners with Lysol and the Mayo Clinic on health and safety measures. The program also seals guest room doors with a CleanStay sticker after they have been cleaned.
“I think for most hotels it’s a sign in the window or sticker on the door. I’m not going to say there are bad intentions by employers, but the economic desperation is what’s driving decisions these days more than any other motivation,” Peterson said. “We have to balance that with the long-term health of this industry. People need to know hotels are safe.”
The Need for Verification
Unite Here’s program is the latest in a burgeoning sector of cleaning verification measures coming forward during the pandemic.
The International Well Building Institute’s WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management is one of the first third-party building safety verifiers to emerge last year. The company has since enlisted Hollywood stars like Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, and Robert DeNiro to market the program.
Digital health company ShareCare entered the fray late last year with its own verification system to confirm a hotel’s health, safety, and cleaning measures. Rather than waiting for individual hotel companies to buy into the program, Sharecare’s strategy focuses on getting buy-in from the travel agencies and global distribution systems many companies utilize like Internova Travel Group to book stays for their employees on the road.
Hyatt partakes in a third-party verification through the GBAC STAR accreditation program with the hotel company’s Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment.
“One of the reasons a safety guarantee is so important to me is I want to keep me and my family safe,” said Sonia Mancias, a housekeeper at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles, which is part of Unite Here’s safety agreement.
The major hotel companies maintain there are verification and enforcement measures within their own programs.
“We have dedicated teams who work with hotels to ensure compliance with all of our brand standards, and Hilton CleanStay protocols and procedures are now included in those reviews,” Phil Cordell, global head of new brand development at Hilton, told Skift last year. “Hilton CleanStay’s origin was in guest feedback, because we are always listening and looking to improve the guest experience.”
Marriott’s cleaning compliance includes feedback from guest satisfaction surveys on cleanliness, hotel owner self-evaluations, and on-site “Cleanliness Champions” who are in charge of making sure individual properties are accountable with the new standards.
IHG’s Way of Clean program includes regular audits and evaluations.
But labor groups like Unite Here are seeing too many violations at certain hotels to rely solely on these highly marketed programs.
“Just because there’s a sticker on the door, that doesn’t mean anything,” Peterson said.
Photo credit: Labor union Unite Here Local 11 rolled out a worker safety rating system this week aimed to provide more transparent safety and accountability measures in the workplace (Pictured: the Chateau Marmont, which failed). Maria Hernandez / Unite Here 11