Hotel workers speak out about sexual abuse

June 2, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Hotel workers spoke out Thursday in Chicago and seven other cities.

The workers say they are ending their silence about the dangers they face on the job. This comes as former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn faces charges in connection with the sexual assault of a hotel worker in New York.

The workers are mostly females, immigrants and people of color. They say their claims point out how dangerous hotel housekeeping can be, and they feel their claims have been ignored.

The women want their downtown hotel bosses to increase security and let them work in teams, but most importantly, they want their respect.

"He asked me, 'Do you want to make extra money?' and 'Do want to do massage to me?' " said downtown hotel housekeeper Hortensia Valera.

One by one, they told stories of the abuses they say happen at work almost daily

"I told them he had done something dirty, that he was showing me something that I had no interest in seeing while I was working," said Yazmin Vasquez, another downtown hotel housekeeper.

Thursday morning, some Chicago hotel housekeepers launched a campaign to break the silence about what they call routine sexual misconduct by hotel guests.

They said it is often ignored by hotel management.

"When I'd done the room I talked to my supervisor about what he had just done, and the supervisor just was laughing about that," said downtown hotel housekeeper Apolonia Rivera.

Thursday's action follows two high-profile hotel assaults in New York City. Authorities arrested then-head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn for allegedly sexually assaulting a chambermaid on May 14.

And, on Sunday, an Egyptian banker was accused of sexually abusing a housekeeper at another Manhattan hotel.

The union that represents some of Chicago's 6,000 housekeepers says it was those incidents that convinced workers in Chicago -- who had been afraid of reprisals if they complained -- to come forward.

"People have been discussing this, but as you heard the housekeepers today, oftentimes it was on deaf ears," said UNITE HERE Vice President Jo Marie Agriesti.

But Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association President and CEO Marc Gordan says, although assaults on hotel staff are not common, most hotels have procedures in place to protect workers.

"If you take care of your employees, and treat them right, and they work hard and are happy, they'll take care of the guest, and if the guest is taken care of then the hotel is successful," Gordan said.

Two New York City hotels have promised labor unions there that they will give the housekeeper staff panic buttons so they can alert managers if they are being attacked. A New York state legislator has proposed bill requiring those devices statewide.

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