“I don’t have a part of my body that doesn’t hurt,” said Feliza Ryland.
“14 rooms in your eight-hour shift… that’s too hard to make it. But that’s something we’re supposed to be doing,” said Rahmo Guled.
“After three years working as a room attendant I started having pain in my hands,” said Maria Estrada.
These were just a few of the testimonials shared Wednesday evening by a panel of five hotel workers—all immigrant women of color, all with stories of physical pain and sexual harassment—who were poised and ready to back Initiative 124, a city-wide measure designed to protect hotel housekeepers and room servers from harassment and injury. They spoke to a packed house at the the Seattle Labor Temple, the room stuffy and cloaked in mid-July heat.
Along with stories of grueling shifts, the women described the threat of physical and sexual assault that housekeepers say often hangs over them.
Guled described one man whose key card wasn’t working. “The guest got frustrated and started banging on the door… I was scared,” Guled told the room. “I didn’t know if he was going to get tired of banging on that door and come at me.”
“I was cleaning the room and he was suggesting to me that he would pay me good money to be with him, and it wouldn’t take a long time,” Ryland said. “I don’t know how to react… I was fortunate enough my manager believed me. Unfortunately, not everybody have that same luck… they don’t believe us; they think we’re making up stories just because we are housekeepers.”
I-124 would help flip the script on what is a much more difficult job than anyone who doesn’t do it might imagine. Hotel workers have extremely high rates of workplace injury, low rates of employer-provided health insurance, and, anecdotally, at least, constant experiences with inappropriate advances (or worse) from hotel guests. One key aspect of I-124, making sure that all hotel workers across Seattle have panic buttons in case of harassment or assault—something that exists for nearly all major hotels in New York City following the high-profile sexual assault of a housekeeper by former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn—has the support of 95 percent of Seattle’s hotel housekeepers, according to a survey conducted by Unite Here Local 8 lead organizer Sarah Warren.
The measure is likely to be placed on the November ballot following a City Council vote on Monday. It so far has the support of Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant, who spoke at the event, and Lisa Herbold, who intended to speak, but had to leave early; State Senator Pramila Jayapal, who told the room she expected a win in November (“I think any reasonable person is going to say, ‘Yes,’” she said; “To me, what you’re doing is incredible because you’re moving forward the entire hotel industry”); and dozens of nonprofits and labor groups, including Puget Sound Sage, whose deputy director Claudia Paras explained that she believes the best policies are designed when those most impacted are an integral part of their creation. “Tonight I heard five policy experts in the hotel industry,” she said to the crowd, accompanied by mumurs and whoops of agreement. “It’s about time that Seattle has created a labor standard that centers on women of color workers! In Seattle, we are leaders on labor standards, and I think we should keep that momentum.”
This was not an event to generate entirely new support for the initiative, or surprise anyone with unheard-of information; the audience was composed primarily of hotel workers, union members, and their allies—primarily women who know exactly what these experiences are like, women who’ve lived these experiences, without recourse, for years. But before now, says Unite Here organizer Abby Lawlor, they were just experiences; before now, “This was not something people thought there was anything to do about.”