In her work as a hotel housekeeper at a downtown Seattle hotel, Ermalyn Magtuba is regularly sexually harassed by guests.
“They’ll answer the door naked or in their underwear,” said Magtuba. “It makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed. I don’t know of other jobs where women have to put up with the kinds of things that go on in hotels.”
Magtuba’s experience isn’t an isolated event. The threat of sexual harassment is especially present for women who work alone in hotel guest rooms. Over 80 percent of hotel housekeepers in Seattle are women, and a majority are immigrants and people of color.
In response, Seattle hotel workers, along with their union UNITE HERE Local 8, are launching an effort to put a measure on the ballot that would require hotel housekeepers be provided with panic buttons and create a standard response procedure for hotel management to address acts of harassment or assault by guests.
“No woman should feel unsafe at work, whether due to harassment and violence or dangerous workloads,” said campaign spokesperson Abby Lawlor in a press release about the effort (the press release also included Magtuba’s story). “By placing this measure on the ballot and passing it into law, voters will send a strong message that Seattle protects women.”
I-124 also addresses what workers say are excessive workloads for hotel housekeepers by limiting the amount of square footage they can clean in a shift. Housekeepers suffer more on-the-job injuries than coal miners do as a result of the strenuous and repetitive nature of their work, according to UNITE HERE.
The I-124 effort is funded by contributions from members to UNITE HERE, which represents workers at downtown Seattle hotels including the Westin, the Edgewater, the Hilton and the Arctic Club.
“Seattle will soon make a $1.5 billion public investment in the hotel industry through the publicly funded expansion of the Washington State Convention Center,” said UNITE HERE Local 8 President Erik Van Rossum. “Initiative 124 will ensure that this investment is consistent with our values—creating safe and harassment-free working environments, expanding access to quality healthcare coverage, and securing harmony between workers and employers.”
Over the next several weeks, Seattle voters can sign the petition to place I-124 on the November ballot.