Sustainability vs Hotel Housekeepers, Taking Sides

by Robert McGarvey

The big push is upon us: hoteliers now are loudly asking us, even offering bribes, to forego housekeeping services. The selling point: it’s good for the environment.

The subhed in a recent New York Times piece sets out the argument: “Besides a worker shortage, demand for ‘green’ practices and technology are shifting the ground under a job that has long been tough to fill.”

If this weren’t a family friendly venue I’d turn up my volume and go into a four letter word rant. There just is so much that makes this attack on housekeeping cringeworthy.

Pitting the environment against the hospitality workers at the bottom of the food chain is plain cruel. Regular readers know I flirt with flygskam, flight shaming. I believe we need to be conscious of how our choices impact the environment. But it’s just wrong to tell me I am harming the environment because I want my room cleaned and, no, I don’t need the sheets washed and probably don’t need fresh towels but I do like the trash emptied and the room straightened up. How’s any of that hurting the environment?

You know what does hurt: attempting to persuade me to join in denying employment to needy, vulnerable workers and we know they are needy and vulnerable because they are in jobs few want.

When a job is tough to fill, there really are only several possible causes. The working conditions are bad. The pay is bad. Hotel housekeeping scores high on both fronts. Sexual assaults, for instance, remain a problem. Housekeepers also have high rates of workplace injuries, per labor union Unite Here. It cites research in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that says housekeepers have a 50% higher injury rate than other hotel employees. Why? Per the union, “In most hotels, a housekeeper must clean 15 or more rooms per day. To meet this quota, she often skips breaks and works off the clock. It also is increasingly common for her to have luxury beds with heavier mattresses and linens, triple-sheeting, duvets, and extra pillows than in years past. Other add-ons, like coffee pots, spa robes and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, can make a housekeeper’s job of cleaning a room even more difficult and time-consuming. “

As for the pay, the NY Times says the average hourly rate for housekeepers is $12.19. It also says that the majority of us do not tip – in fact two out of three don’t.

So now we know why there’s a shortage of applicants for housekeeping jobs.

Of course there also are whispers that historically many housekeepers had irregular paperwork but with the current federal crackdown on undocumented workers that practice is much less common. I cannot state this as fact but many will tell you it’s so.

And so now hoteliers want to keep up downward pressures on housekeeper pay by persuading us that we are doing good for the environment by turning off housekeeping – which of course also means that the more of us who do so the fewer housekeepers need to be employed.

Beware the hotelier with a bribe in hand. Trade pub Hotel News Now splashed out this hed on a recent story: “How hoteliers incentivize guests to skip housekeeping.”

Like what? Marriott’s “Make a Green Choice” awards guests 250 Bonvoy points for each day a guest skips housekeeping. Onemileatatime pegs the value of a Bonvoy point at about 0.7 cents, which puts the Marriott offer at about $1.75.

Many other large groups also offer loyalty points for passing on housekeeping.

Other hotels are offering f & b discounts or freebies, like a free coffee.

Not exactly persuasive bribes, are they?

And then there are the housekeepers, quoted in that NY Time story, who said that in many cases when a guest skips housekeeping services they may have to work harder to catch up with the deferred sanitation when the guest checks out. “When the rooms are very dirty, we use more water, more scrubbing, stronger chemicals,” a San Diego hotel housekeeper said. “It’s very hard because we have a lot of pressure to clean the rooms on time.”

Let’s be honest here. The gain for the environment when we skip housekeeping services is minimal.

Let’s rephrase the question with the environment out of the equation. Are you comfortable taking money out of a housekeeper’s slender pay packet and putting the money in a hotelier’s wallet?

That’s what it is about. And, no, I’m not down with that.

5 thoughts on “Sustainability vs Hotel Housekeepers, Taking Sides”

  1. After forty plus years of business travels I’ve come to the conclusion that to the airlines, hotels, rental card agencies, taxis, we are nothing more than dollar bills to be collected. Nothing more. The afore mentioned groups constantly try to find ways to loot morefrom us while providing little more than flash to us. Frequent usedr programs are usually worth less than the glitzy paper they send us… Make that glitzy emails, they cost far less than paper. Saves the environment they will argue. But that’s the point. Travel is expensive done right. The circle jerks of executives who run these programs look down on us from on high and all they see are dollars to be plucked. Not, most certainly NOT customers.

  2. The only difference between the airlines and the hotels is that the hotels have more legroom.

    Full confession: Many years ago, as a young business traveler, I was one of the fools who took housekeepers for granted. “Tip them?” I thought. “Why? After all, they’re paid by the hotels.”

    Well, I grew up a number of years ago and now make sure that my pillow is adorned with more than dandruff — always a few dollars per day.

    I’m sure most hotels are delighted, because they’ll feel it removes the pressure on them to do better for their housekeepers. A real shame.

    (Note to Robert: I agree with you. I don’t need fresh sheets and towels every single day, but I like “neat” and garbage emptied. Probably takes the housekeeper no more than 5 minutes to have my room “like new” again. And I know that, in the course of their jobs, they undoubtedly encounter more than a few guests who make their jobs miserable. I refuse to be one of them.)

  3. Here’s an interesting bribe that I got (and took): At Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, I was given $10 in free slot machine play to forego housekeeping after one of my two nights.

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