Hotel Room Cleaners Health and Safety

HOTEL ROOM CLEANER PROJECT

Workers at 35 Las Vegas hotel-casinos overwhelmingly approved union contracts that set new limits on housekeepers’ workload based on findings from a study by University researchers. The study, commissioned by Local 226, sought to find links between the health and working conditions of the housekeepers, who are called Guest Room Attendants (GRAs) in Las Vegas. It was conducted in 2001 and early 2002 by a team led by Niklas Krause, M.D., a UC San Francisco epidemiologist. The team included LOHP’s Pam Tau Lee and Robin Baker as well as other researchers from UC and the University of Nevada – Las Vegas.

A 1999 study of the health and working conditions of room cleaners in four major San Francisco hotels helped reduce the number of rooms that workers must clean each day. The study was co-directed by Niklas Krause, M.D., senior research scientist for COEH at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, and Pam Tau Lee of LOHP.

Following the study, a workload reduction was negotiated in a new contract between Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 2 and the hotels in the summer of 1999.

The research indicated that the physical workload of the room cleaners increased over the past five years and their health is worse than the general U.S. population. It also found that more than three-quarters of the 258 workers surveyed experienced work-related pain in the last year. About one-third of the workers reported high levels of job stress. The findings also suggested that changes can be made in the structure and organization of hotel work to reduce room cleaners’ health risks and stress.

The fast-growing hospitality industry is a major employer of low-wage service workers in U.S. metropolitan areas. As competition for global tourism and convention business has increased, the $75 billion industry has added beds, services, and amenities, while cutting costs through leaner staffing and higher performance demands on workers. The study, which was commissioned by Local 2 with additional funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, explored the impact of these changes on hotel room cleaners—the largest occupational group within the industry.

“Room cleaning jobs in the hospitality industry are characterized by increasing repetitive physical workloads, low income, low skill utilization, low job control, and virtually no prospects for training and career advancement,” the researchers reported. “There is compelling evidence that such low-income jobs result in a disproportionately high burden of illness, injury, and disability.”

BREAKING NEW GROUND

No other scientific studies of the hospitality workforce had ever been made. Recognizing that they were breaking new ground, Krause, Lee, and their colleagues emphasized collaboration with the room cleaners themselves throughout the study.

Nearly 70 percent of the eligible room cleaners participated in the study, volunteering their time outside of work to take a survey (available in several languages). A core group of room cleaners participated in focus groups and helped the researchers develop the survey and interpret the results.

Nearly the entire survey population (99 percent) was female. Most (95 percent) were immigrants who speak a native language other than English (including Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese). Nearly half (44 percent) were over age 50.

REPORTS