How COVID-19 made hotel housekeeping harder — and disgusting
Cristina Velasquez has cleaned up almost every mess imaginable in her 21 years as a hotel housekeeper, but the scene awaiting her when she opened the door to a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hollywood there. a few months ago still haunts her.
Upon entering she was struck by what smelled like dead animals and the sight of blood on the sheets. A lot of blood. Also, maggots and hypodermic needles. Velasquez reported it to his manager, who simply told him to clean it up as soon as possible. She had a tight schedule. There was no time to investigate.
“It was disgusting,” Velasquez said in Spanish. “I lost my appetite that day.”
The pandemic has added stress to most jobs, but the work of hotel cleaners – already a profession with high injury rates – has become increasingly difficult, with fewer workers facing short deadlines to clean rooms that are more cluttered and dirty than ever.
To reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, many of the nation’s largest hotel chains have adopted policies that make daily housekeeping optional, letting guests choose how often housekeepers enter rooms. In most cases, that means cleaners don’t come in until after guests have left, leaving several days of trash, grime, and discarded towels to deal with.
Although demand for hotel rooms has returned to pre-pandemic levels in Southern California and other parts of the country, hotels have not replenished housekeeping staff to 2019 levels.
In Southern California, about 70% of housekeepers have been rehired since hotels closed and thousands of workers were laid off at the start of the pandemic, according to Unite Here, Local 11, a union that represents workers in the hospitality industry in Southern California and Arizona. .
Misdeeds reported by housekeepers include mounds of fast food wrappers, piles of dirty towels, half-eaten takeout containers, sticky floors with spilled drinks and, occasionally, feces smeared on the floors. bathroom walls. A housekeeper shared a photo with The Times of a bed covered in hundreds of nitrous oxide capsules, made for whipped cream dispensers but often used by people who inhale the gas to get a quick heady high.
Before the pandemic, housekeepers entered rooms daily, making it quicker and easier to clean and disinfect the daily buildup of clutter and grime, said Kurt Petersen, co-chair of the union that represents more than 32,000 hotel and airport workers. Under the new policies, fewer housekeepers are now required to perform roughly the same number of daily cleanings in the same short time frame as before the pandemic, but the increase in clutter is making these jobs more demanding in workforce, he said.
“The pandemic has been an absolute, uninterrupted disaster for the health and safety of housekeepers,” Petersen said. “Cleaning a room that’s been left untouched for days is not only more difficult and time-consuming, it’s much less safe for guests and workers.”
The new conditions are likely to increase already high injury rates among hotel housekeepers, he said.
University studies and government workforce statistics show that housekeepers in hotels suffer from one of the highest injury rates among service industry workers. Many injuries come from lifting mattresses to make beds and moving dusty furniture.
“Changes in hotel room cleaning practices that lead to an increased workload – for example, understaffing, less frequent room cleaning resulting in dirtier rooms – are likely to lead to risks increased work-related injuries for hotel room cleaners,” said Pamela Vossenas. , a researcher who co-authored a 2010 study that found hotel housekeepers had the highest injury rate overall and the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries among hotel employees. studied hotel.
At the end of each shift, Velasquez, 48, said she comes home with back pain from moving mattresses and furniture and pain in her knees from kneeling to clean the floors in the bathroom and shower cubicles.
If guests knew how difficult her job is, she said, they wouldn’t leave such a mess.
Riley Wood, general manager of Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates the Hilton Garden Inn Los Angeles/Hollywood, declined to comment.
A spokesperson for Hilton Hotel & Resorts said the company offers guests “choice and control over the level of housekeeping services they desire” as guests may have “varying levels of comfort with anyone.” one entering their room after check-in”.
Hospitality industry representatives say the new housekeeping policies are aimed at keeping workers and guests safe and are preferred by guests.
A survey conducted for the American Hotel and Lodging Assn. found that 81% of hotel guests feel safer staying at a hotel if daily housekeeping is suspended.
“When it comes to room cleaning, hotels are following both guest preferences and the latest CDC guidelines for hotel employees,” the lodging association said in a statement, citing the recommendation. of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “Rooms occupied by the same guest on multiple days should not be cleaned daily, unless requested.”
The World Health Organization disagrees with the CDC’s recommendations, saying, “All programs in which clients can voluntarily forego housekeeping services should be suspended from the Health Maximization service. and the safety of hotel staff and guests.” WHO policy suggests that guests and staff will be at less risk of infection if rooms are regularly cleaned and disinfected by workers wearing gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment.
During a recent eight-hour shift, Velasquez took notes and took pictures of his workload.
His manager asked him to clean 14 rooms that day. This includes changing bedding, cleaning and disinfecting the bathroom, dusting, replacing dirty towels, vacuuming carpet, and mopping tile and hardwood floors. With a 30 minute lunch break, that would only give him 32 minutes per room.
She started her shift at 8:32 a.m. It took her 45 minutes to clean the first room. Piles of dirty towels littered the bathroom and rubbish was strewn all over the room outside the bins. She was already late.
The second room was much cleaner – no litter or towels on the floor – and she was able to finish it in 30 minutes. But by 10 a.m., she had only cleaned two rooms.
Velasquez started the third play – also very crowded and dirty – at 10:12 a.m. and it took him until 11 a.m. to finish it.
It took him an hour to clean the fourth room. The most physically demanding part of the job was lifting mattresses to replace sheets and vacuuming under the bed, she said. Most of the time, she works alone.
By the time of her lunch break, she had only cleaned five of the 14 pieces she had been tasked with completing.
She was frustrated and tired. Velasquez said she repeatedly told her manager that the rooms were too crowded and dirty for her to meet the daily quota. Stick to the schedule, he is told.
“I go from room to room and it’s the same,” she says of the workload.
Towards the end of her shift, she entered the bathroom of her 12th bedroom and discovered that a guest had smeared feces on the walls of the shower stall.
“I don’t know what kind of people stay here,” she said. “Why are they doing this? Maybe they think they have the right to do this.
It took her over an hour to clean the room, using bleach to remove the smell from the bathroom.
Several of her co-workers had to come to her aid so she could finish all 14 pieces by the end of her shift at 5:30 p.m.
It was common: she usually doesn’t finish her daily task because the rooms are too cluttered and dirty. She fears losing her job for failing in her daily duties, but hopes her hotel workers’ union will support her.
Usually exhausted by the time she gets home, Velasquez tries to spend time with her husband and two sons, ages 20 and 18, at the end of the day. She doesn’t want them to feel abandoned.
She doesn’t know how long she can keep up the pace, but she knows she can’t give up. She has to work to support her family.
“I worry because I know I need work,” Velasquez said. “But the harder I work, the more work they have for me.”