'I Would Not Go To A Hotel Right Now' Says Head Of LA Hotel Workers Union

Photo credit Keem Ibarra via Unsplash

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It's been two weeks since hotels in California got the green light to reopen, but the workers tasked with cleaning and preparing rooms for guests say hotel management is not following or enforcing state-mandated safety protocols for operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

The hotel workers union, Unite Here Local 11, is now calling on local officials to shut hotels down until the proper protections are in place.

NOT ENOUGH MASKS, GLOVES, CLEANING, OR TEMP CHECKS

According to state guidelines, hotels must provide masks for employees and ensure that they're being properly used. Workers should also be given temperature checks before the start of each shift, plus extra time to more thoroughly clean rooms and wash their hands.

But Kurt Peterson, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel workers in L.A. and Orange counties, told KPCC's Take Two that's not happening.

The lack of proper protocols could potentially put hotel guests, as well as workers, at risk for contracting the virus. Petersen said he's heard from workers that rooms are not being cleaned regularly enough and "as a consequence, there's an extraordinary buildup of towels and linen that's been soiled in rooms and then being piled up in hallways."

The situation at hotels is like "the wild, wild west," he said.

"I just got off the phone at a hotel where a kitchen worker contracted COVID-19," Petersen told us. "And the problem is that the hotel is not telling us or other workers, much less the guests, about that case. And that is contrary to common sense [and] the L.A. County safety guidelines."

It's an example of "why we believe there needs to be a pause until we get it right," he said.

Hotel workers want to go back to work just as much as everyone else, but the union is not willing to sacrifice their health for a paycheck, Peterson said.

"They're supposed to give us enough time to go from one room to another to wash our hands," Delilah Gibson, who tidies up the rooms at the Westin Bonaventure in Downtown L.A., told us. "We have so much work, we don't have time to wash our hands and that's not safe," she said. "And the masks? You have to ask them, 'May I have a mask?' You shouldn't have to go and ask."

The managing director at the Westin Bonaventure declined to comment for this story.

Not only are hotels supposed to supply masks to workers, they're also supposed to provide disposable gloves that can be thrown away after each room is cleaned, said Peterson. But that is not happening either, he said.

In addition, hotels are required to provide hand sanitizer for workers and guests, have automatically opening doors to lobbies so that no one has to touch the handles, and make sure that elevators are never occupied by more than four people at a time.

"The problem is that the county issued these guidelines on Thursday, June 11, for the hotels to open on Friday, June 12," Petersen said. "It is reckless and irresponsible. And it should not have been done."

A hotel employee cleans a room in Lloret de Mar, Spain on June 22, 2020. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

'GUESTS FIRST' POLICY DOESN'T WORK IF GUESTS REFUSE TO WEAR MASKS

Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, argues that hotels have been safely operating for the past several months, while housing homeless Californians through the temporary statewide program, Project Roomkey.

"We haven't had any cluster outbreaks at hotels that we're aware of," Mohrfeld told KPCC's Airtalk, "so I think we're well-positioned to have the tools to provide our employees a very safe environment."

Petersen counters that leisure travelers behave differently from homeless hotel tenants, who face strict guidelines on mask wearing and hand washing, as well as daily temperature checks. Paying hotel guests, he said, are not subject to the same scrutiny and therefore have greater potential to spread the virus to employees...and each other.

"Honestly, the Project Roomkey population is much safer than your individual traveler," Petersen said. "[Tourists] are there to enjoy themselves. They are there to exercise what they consider their rights. And hotels I don't think are ready, or willing, to tell them to comply with temperature checks or with masks. That's a problem that we're running into all across the country."

Petersen argued that hotel guests should be required to wear a mask as soon as they enter the building, "and if they don't, they don't get in."

The problem is that the hotel industry's "guests first" policy isn't conducive to cracking down on travelers who might put up a fight about mask-wearing or other coronavirus policies.

United Here Local 11 is asking L.A. and Orange counties to pause all hotel reopenings until proper protocols are put into place, and to create a system that would hold hotel managers accountable if they don't follow the rules.

Petersen also wants hotels to notify the union when a worker does come down with COVID-19, so that person can be isolated, treated and guaranteed to get their job back when they recover.

A room cleaner putting a sticker on a room's door after its disinfection at a luxury hotel in Antalya, a popular holiday resort in Turkey. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

HOTEL WORKERS NEED HEALTH INSURANCE

Petersen pointed out that, even in the middle of a pandemic, many of the hotels in Southern California aren't providing their workers with health insurance. He pointed specifically to luxury hotels in Hollywood and Palos Verdes, which he says are bringing back workers who don't have coverage.

Until the union's demands are met, Petersen said, he doesn't think anyone should feel safe staying in a hotel in California, especially since the chances of transmission are higher than a restaurant or bar, if you're staying overnight.

"I wouldn't go to a hotel, right now," he said. "I just wouldn't."

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF IF YOU'RE STILL THINKING ABOUT STAYING AT A HOTEL:

  • When you walk in, are they taking your temperature?
  • Are they asking you to put on a mask?
  • Are they opening the door for you?
  • What are they doing to increase ventilation?
  • Look at the public areas. Are there people cleaning in those areas?? "That is a sign that hotel management is talking seriously about the need to constantly clean surfaces," Petersen says.

Gina Pollack contributed to this story.

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