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A survey of hotel and casino workers in Chicago revealed alarming statistics about sexual harassment in the workplace. With over half of those surveyed reporting experiencing harassment, unions are looking for ways to make workers feel safe.
“Frankly, I don’t think much of the public understands what housekeepers go through just to clean these rooms and carry out the work,” Maria Elena Durazo told HuffPost. Durazo is a labour leader at Unite Here, the hospitality union that conducted the survey.
The power dynamics of the situation are multiplied by the fact that many of the workers are women in low-paying jobs. They do not want to, and often can't afford to, risk their income in an industry where "the customer is always right."
"We have to do something to equalize the power so that women really have the ability to speak up, without having to risk their livelihood," Durazo said. "That goes for whether you’re a housekeeper or a food server or a big-time actor."
Lydia Polgreen, Editor in Chief at HuffPost, shared the statistics in a tweet. The numbers speak for themselves.
'He Was Masturbating… I Felt Like Crying': With all the focus on abuse in high profile industries, sexual predation among the most exposed and powerless workers, like hotel maids, gets overlooked. By @jamieson. https://t.co/3EVgPKtYAP pic.twitter.com/DGyydKckmD
— Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen) November 18, 2017
Aided by these alarming statistics, the "Hands Off, Pants On " ordinance was passed in Chicago for both union and non-union workers in hotels citywide. The first piece of legislation of its kind in the United States, it mandates that housekeepers be given handheld, wireless panic buttons so they can alert hotel security when they feel threatened. Other cities are trying to pass ordinances of their own, but some are being met with resistance from local government. In Long Beach, CA, a similar request for panic buttons was made and narrowly rejected by the local chamber of commerce due to the estimated $3 million (£2.25 million) collective cost to hotels.
Many people took to Twitter to express their support and share stories of their own from working in the industry. One person recounted an experience they had where a panic button and better support system for reporting harassment would have been helpful.