Hotel workers ask for panic buttons to protect them from sexual assault

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Emily Reynolds
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The Las Vegas union that represents hotel workers is calling for panic buttons to help protect hotel workers. Here’s why. 

A union representing hotel workers in Las Vegas is asking that panic buttons are installed in hotels in the city to protect workers from sexual assault.

The calls come not only amid the #MeToo movement but also after several housekeepers in the city have been “brutally attacked”. In 2016, a man was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper, punching her in the face and assaulting her; several years earlier, in 2011, a 19-year-old man was arrested after punching and sexually assaulting a 65-year-old housekeeper.

The union, the Culinary Union, also points out that New York housekeepers have been “carrying panic buttons since 2013”, when a hotel maid accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault. Strauss-Kahn was the chief of the International Monetary Fund when he was accused of attacking a housekeeper in 2001. He was eventually acquitted of the charges. 

The city council of Chicago will also require hotels to provide workers with panic buttons by next summer.

Hotel chains MGM Resorts and Caesar’s Entertainment have both responded to the calls, with a spokesperson from MGM saying that “workplace safety is a top priority”. Caesar’s says it is “working with the union to develop pilot programs that explore how technology can enhance employee safety.”

Hotel workers are often particularly vulnerable to assault as they work alone

“We want safety for all the workers,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer, told AP. “We want to have some language in the contract to protect more the people who work inside the hotels.”

“We know what’s going on with sexual harassment. No woman should have to go through that.”

A recent survey in the UK found that sexual harassment is “rampant” in the hospitality industry, with nine out of ten workers “experiencing abuse” at work. Nearly 85% of respondents had witnessed harassment of someone else.  

“Time and time again women – and men – are telling us that sexual harassment is just seen as part of their job,” Charlotte Bence, a hospitality coordinator for Unite, told The Guardian. “Standards of behaviour can slip when people don’t feel there is a need to be professional and people treat staff in bars, clubs and hotels in ways they wouldn’t dream of doing so in other environments.

And in a 2017 report from NPR, Karen Kent,  president of the Chicago chapter of the hospitality workers union Unite Here, said that hotel workers are “especially vulnerable”.

“Our mission is to welcome people to the city and make them feel at home,” she said. “Hotel housekeepers work alone, cleaning rooms. And oftentimes, there’s a power imbalance between the women who clean them, who are often women of colour, immigrants, and guests who have those rooms who pay hundreds of dollars a night. 

“If something happens with the guests, they often can’t be heard or possibly can’t even get away.”

In a study conducted by the union, 49% of hotel housekeepers had “found a guest naked or had answered the door naked or exposed themselves while they were cleaning the room”; 63% had “experienced an incident of sexual harassment on the job”.

Images: iStock