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OSHA tells Hyatt that its housekeepers are at risk

Letter issued companywide to Hyatt is a first in the hotel industry

May 8, 2012

[Washington D.C.] In a first for the hotel industry, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a letter to Hyatt Hotels Corporation (NYSE: H), notifying the company of ergonomic risk factors faced by housekeepers in the course of their daily work. The letter recommends simple steps for Hyatt to take to reduce the ergonomic strain of housekeeping labor.

The OSHA letter concludes a year-long investigation process of Hyatt properties nationwide led by OSHA, instigated by injury complaints that were filed by housekeepers in 2010 on behalf of 3,500 Hyatt workers in eight U.S. cities, like Chicago, San Antonio and Indianapolis. This landmark multi-city filing of complaints was the first of its kind in the private sector. Since that time, OSHA and its state counterparts have issued 18 citations against Hyatt and 3 citations against one of its subcontractors, proposing combined fines of over $118,000 for alleged violations of various safety regulations protecting housekeepers and other hotel workers. Hyatt has appealed and in some cases settled the citations against it. In addition, State OSHA plans in California and Hawaii have issued similar ergonomic hazard notices to Hyatt properties in those states.

OSHA’s letter validates reports by Hyatt housekeepers about pain and injuries sustained while cleaning luxury hotel rooms. Over time, lifting heavy mattresses and other cleaning activities can lead to debilitating injuries, surgery and even permanent disability. Hyatt housekeepers at some hotels clean as many as 30 rooms a day, leaving room attendants as little as 15 minutes per room to scrub bathroom floors, change bed linens and more. In a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine examining 50 hotel properties from 5 different hotel companies, Hyatt housekeepers had the highest injury rate of all housekeepers studied when compared by hotel company.

“For years, we have asked Hyatt to make simple changes that would ease the toll on our bodies,” says Maria Soto, a housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, who has been injured cleaning rooms. “Now our voices are being heard, and the federal government is joining us in calling on Hyatt to make our jobs safer.”

The OSHA letter recognizes the dangers of housekeeping work and identifies simple remedies that Hyatt can implement across its U.S. operations, like use of long-handled mops and fitted sheets, to minimize the amount of bed lifting and straining housekeepers do daily. Importantly, OSHA outlines Hyatt’s responsibility to record injuries of subcontracted workers at its hotels, addressing a loophole that has grown with Hyatt’s aggressive use of contract workers to clean hotel rooms. Hyatt stirred controversy in 2009 after firing nearly 100 housekeepers in its Boston hotels, replacing them with contracted workers making minimum wage and increasing the quota of rooms cleaned each day.

“By issuing this letter at the corporate level, OSHA is telling Hyatt that the dangers of housekeeping work are real, that there are reasonable solutions, and it’s time for Hyatt to put them into practice across the country,” said Pamela Vossenas, UNITE HERE’s health and safety expert.

In previous communications with government regulators, Hyatt has dismissed the ergonomic dangers associated with housekeeping work, stating: “The close association of housekeeping with routine life also raises difficult questions about causation. One’s injury is at least as likely to have occurred during non-work activities like sports, dancing or performing routine chores in one’s home.”

In recent years, the Department of Labor has taken the lead on addressing the hidden dangers of hotel housekeeping work and other jobs performed by women and Latino workers more broadly through a series of OSHA summits.

Contact Annemarie Strassel, 312-617-0495 or astrassel@unitehere.org.