Where’s the housekeeping? Hotels cut back on daily cleaning after pandemic


With most coronavirus pandemic regulations lifted in the United States and hotels experiencing a resurgence of visitors, many hotel workers have returned to work. But not at all.

Hotels have cut back on daily room cleaning, which means many housekeepers remain on call. For this reason, a union that represents hotel service workers is sounding the alarm and claiming that nearly 40% of hotel housekeeping jobs – over 180,000 – are in danger of being permanently cut.

“Whenever there is a crisis, companies try to use it to hurt workers,” Unite Here International president D. Taylor told MarketWatch.

Executives from some of the country’s largest hotel chains, including Hilton HLT,
+ 1.99%,
Marriott MAR,
and Hyatt H,
have signaled that pandemic-induced changes could become the norm. Some of these changes could result in a decrease in the number of hotel employees and a decrease in offers for hotel guests, including room cleaning, room service, free breakfasts and others. catering services.

A spokesperson for Hilton said daily cleaning remains an option at all of the company’s hotels, but has “seen different types of housekeeping demand during the pandemic. Some clients preferred to access a sealed room and then be the only ones to enter that room for the duration of their stay. Others preferred daily cleaning.

The cuts may be linked to the pandemic, but hotels are also using them to appease investors. Christopher Nassetta, managing director of Hilton Worldwide, said during the company’s earnings call in November that he expected cost savings such as time off and downsizing “should be semi-permanent “. On the flip side, he said during the earnings call last month in response to a question about reported staff shortages that “you just can’t get enough people to maintain the properties.”

See also: Is Airbnb Too Expensive? CEO plans ‘systematic price update’ as travel recovers

This does not appear to be the case at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where Nely Reinante is a housekeeper and is waiting to return to work full time. On leave since March 2020, she recently told MarketWatch that her hotel has made daily room cleaning optional, which means she remains on call. Unite Here said the Reinante hotel brought back around 450 of its 620 housekeepers.

Reinante said she has only worked one day a week so far. As much as she appreciates being back, it’s not enough. She also needs health benefits for herself and her family, including a 9 year old girl who has medical problems. She can only benefit from these health benefits if she works at least 20 hours per week.

“I hope we are going to be called out every day,” she said. “I try to stay positive.

A spokesperson for Hilton said that “the vast majority of housekeepers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village have been recalled to their duties, although hours and shifts may vary depending on demand from businesses as sector is recovering “. When it comes to food service, some Hilton hotels have moved to ‘take out’ options or food and drink credits at the start of the pandemic instead of buffet breakfasts, and are now in various stages of reintroducing different. standards.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for cleaning and maintenance workers in May was 6.7%, while the rate for food preparation and service workers was 9.8%. While these rates are an improvement over a year and even a month ago, they are still far higher than the rates before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is clear that the situation for some workers – even s ‘they have resumed their work – is far from ideal.

Some hotel cleaners complain that the reduction in daily cleaning has made it more difficult for them to do their jobs. Andee Huang-guan, a housekeeper who returned to work at the Westin Boston Seaport District hotel in October, told MarketWatch that her hotel had recently resumed daily cleanings, but before that she had to mainly clean ” departure rooms’ – the rooms that the guests had I stayed there for several days, then I left, it was very painful.

“It’s a lot more cleaning inside,” she said, describing stained glass or mugs and adding that she had to use more chemicals. “Sometimes I couldn’t finish my homework. I had to work faster.

Huang-guan also said that she had to take pain relievers and that some of her colleagues “had to undergo physical therapy” because of the added stress on their bodies. She said returning to daily housekeeping would be easier for her and her colleagues, and would benefit hotel guests, some of whom asked her about the changes.

“Every day the guests would say ‘no one is cleaning my room’,” she said.

The Huang-guan hotel is operated by Aimbridge Hospitality under a franchise agreement with Westin, a brand owned by Marriott. When contacted for comment, Aimbridge said, “We follow all of the brand’s guidelines for safety, cleanliness and all other COVID protocols.”

The hotel is owned by DiamondRock Hospitality Co. HRD,
a real estate investment trust. During DiamondRock’s earnings call last month, executives were asked whether lower staffing levels were affecting customer satisfaction. COO Thomas Healy said, “We make sure that the positions that add value, prove the customer experience and touch the customer are the ones that come back first. “

Read: COVID-19 has hit the hospitality industry hard. This is how hotels are pivoting in the new reality

A report released by the American Hotel & Lodging Association in January showed that guests ranked improved cleaning and hygiene practices as the second most important factor in their hotel choice, behind price. This means that workers like Reinante and Huang-guan, who are immigrants from the Philippines and China respectively, are responsible for a significant portion of customer satisfaction.

If they lose their jobs or don’t return to full-time work, they are among the “exact communities that have been injured and most affected by the pandemic,” Unite Here’s Taylor said. “It’s like a double whammy.”

Seventy-three percent of U.S. hotel cleaners are Hispanic or Latino, black, Asian or Native American, according to Unite Here. Two of these three groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Adjusting for age differences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that Native Americans, Latinos and blacks are two to three times more likely than whites to die from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, a McKinsey report finds that as the economy recovers from the pandemic, the demand for well-paying jobs may increase, but the demand for service occupations and low-paying jobs may decline. until 2030.

Taylor also said hotels shutting off housekeepers and other services could lead to safety concerns. He called housekeepers a possible first line of defense in bringing security concerns to the attention of hotel management.

“The union will fight back,” he said, but added that guests might want to try to do their part to preserve what they expect from the hospitality industry. “They should insist that their room be cleaned, that they have room service and that they want to feel safe.”

Read more: What could save the hospitality industry amid the pandemic – a hub for work and leisure

Reinante said she and her colleagues distributed leaflets informing guests of the situation at her hotel in Hawaii. She said many of them are surprised that daily cleaning is no longer a regular practice.

“It affects their overall experience at the hotel,” she said. “The guests are there to enjoy. We are proud of the beauty of our island.

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