My name is Eunice How and I am a union organizer at UNITE HERE Local 8 in Seattle. We are the hospitality workers union of Washington State and Oregon. We represent workers at hotels, food service, and airport concessions. Our members are majority women, immigrants, and people of color. I am a second generation Chinese-Malaysian American.
We are campaigning to pass Initiative 124 in the City of Seattle on the November general election ballot. It provides health and safety standards to protect Seattle’s hotel workers from sexual harassment and inhumane workloads. It also provides access to affordable family medical care and basic job security.
In downtown Seattle, the hotel workforce is majority people of color. 30 percent of hotel workers are Asian Pacific Islander, 16 percent Latino, and 15 percent Black/African. Seattle’s statistics show 14% of the general population is Asian. Some of our API housekeeping union members’ countries of origin are China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The overwhelming majority of housekeepers are women. Housekeepers and room service staff often work alone when entering a guest room, which poses unique circumstances. In a recent survey of hotel housekeepers, 96% experienced pain from the work, and 53% encountered guest sexual harassment, such as seeing naked guests or being touched by a guest in an unwelcoming way.
Ermalyn Magtuba, a room service attendant at a downtown Seattle hotel, moved to the city from the Philippines 17 years ago. She works two jobs and 74 hours a week to support her family. She experiences regular sexual harassment on the job, like encountering naked or skimpily dressed male guests when she enters rooms. She’s been propositioned and asked where to find prostitutes and condoms. I’ve also heard stories from housekeepers who are shown pornography by guests and witness guests masturbating. A “guest is always right” service mentality deters employees from making complaints again guests and management from taking action. Initiative 124 would provide panic buttons to workers and a mandated response for reports of harassment and assault.
Jian Hua “Jenny” Wu works in housekeeping and came to Seattle from China 11 years ago to take care of her mother. She didn’t know English when she first moved to America. She says new employees often don’t speak the language and don’t know how to ask for help or are afraid to speak up.
Jian Hua was a former professional basketball player and knows how to protect her body from injury, but had no idea before she started how physically difficult the job would be. She herself has foot pain, and many of her coworkers have work-related injuries due to the strenuous and repetitive nature of the job – they perform tasks such as lifting heavy mattresses. Housekeepers suffer a higher rate of injury than coalminers. The workers I’ve surveyed reported afflictions like shoulder rotator cuff tears, arthritis in their fingers, and carpal tunnel in their wrists so bad it required surgery. Initiative 124 would limit the number of guest rooms a hotel housekeeper is required to clean in an eight-hour shift and thus reduce unsafe workloads.
We are engaging our AAPI union members about this law by surveying them about workplace pain and sexual harassment. We are also asking them to be involved in the campaign by attending community events, city council meetings, and being media spokespeople. Our international union has also identified helping members to apply to become citizens and register to vote as priorities.
Initiative 124: Seattle Protects Women is #MYAAPIVOTE!