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Hotels And Union Butt Heads Over Ballot Initiative To Protect Seattle Housekeepers

"hallway in the cherry tree inn in billings" by Bradley Gordon is licensed under CC by 2.0
Voters in Seattle will see an initiative designed to protect hotel workers on the November ballot.

On Monday,  the Seattle City Council endorsed an initiative slated for the November ballot that was designed to protect hotel workers in the city.  That initiative is opposed by hotel owners who worry the measure goes too far.

Initiative 124 is broad, covering employee health care, workplace safety, and how hotels should protect workers from sexual harassment.

Sarah Warren is the vice president for UNITE HERE Local 8, the hospitality union that sponsored the initiative. She said the hotel industry has a real problem with sexual harassment.

Housekeepers find themselves in situations, "where you've got women working alone in men's guest rooms," she said.  "Men who usually have a fair amount of money and privilege to be able to stay in those rooms, and there are serious safety concerns about being harassed."

Warren also said hotel workers, especially housekeepers, suffer a lot of workplace injuries from lifting heavy loads and cleaning more than a dozen rooms a day. She said these workers don't always have adequate healthcare.

"And we've got a story that's becoming clear about the immigrant women working in our hotels and what's happening to their bodies," Warren said.

But opponents said hotel workers already have many of the protections noted in the initiative, such as panic buttons for housekeepers and ways to report harassment. 

Jenne Oxford, president of the Seattle Hotel Association, feels hotel employers were excluded from giving their input.

"[Initiative] 124 was written by the union," Oxford said. "It's not really about protecting employees."

Oxford said if it was about protection, I-124 wouldn't have included a provision that says certain parts of the measure could be waived if hotels negotiate a union contract.  She also worries about guests' privacy if hotels are forced to keep a list of accused harassers.

"I wouldn't say we're against legislating [hotel workers'] health and safety at all," Oxford said. "I think we just wanted to be at the table and talk about what we're doing."

Warren said that hotels that are already doing the right thing shouldn't have anything to worry about if the initiative passes in November.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.