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Hotel Cleaners in Oakland Could Get Panic Buttons

Matt Bigler
September 07, 2018 - 2:07 pm

OAKLAND — Oakland could require hotels to provide panic buttons for their workers, if voters approve an measure on the ballot this November. Supporters of Measure Z say it would help protect housekeepers from sexual assault and provide other protections for the tourist industry’s most vulnerable employees.

The initiative comes in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, which has drawn nationwide attention to sexual and physical harassment in the workplace. Other cities in California are considering similar measures after a statewide bill succumbed to opposition from hotel operators and the Chamber of Commerce last month.

Supporters are optimistic that Oakland voters will back the idea.

“I think people are yearning to find ways to make our…workplaces safer for women,” said Kristi Laughlin with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the campaign director for Measure Z. “The movement needs to go beyond hash tags, and this is a very concrete way to make significant changes in the lives of thousands of housekeepers.”

Hotel housekeepers often work long hours performing thankless drudgery. The work can be hazardous in ways guests may not realize, and they never know what they could walk in on when they enter a room to clean it.

“I think a lot of people don’t know…the conditions that workers face,” said Laughlin. She said this is especially true when housekeepers face harassment from guests.

“A lot of times workers are alone on floors of big hotels, and don’t have anyone else around,” she said. “It creates really vulnerable situations for people.”

In some cases, hotel workers are risking their jobs to come out in support of the measure. Julio Paez, a cleaner for a hotel in Oakland, said that workers are forbidden to have their cell phones while on duty. 

Paez said that if a hotel worker uses a cell phone to call for help with a problem customer, the manager would question why the worker was violating the rule against using their phones.

In a surprising reversal this week, the American Hotel and Lodging association announced that it would work with hotel operators to give workers portable safety devices to alert security. 

Written by Jordan Bowen.