Eliminating Daily Room Cleaning Threatens Hawaii’s Best Jobs

Sally Mangrobang is a furloughed housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, which shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19 but got the green light to reopen in October 2020. But seven months have passed and Sally has not been called back to work. She is worried. The hotel got its green light, but where is hers?

Despite tourism resurging and tourists returning, many Hawai’i hotels are only offering daily room cleaning by request only. A room reservation at the hotel does not include daily housekeeping as an automatic service because of COVID policy. Prior to the pandemic, guests at many UNITE HERE Local 5 hotels automatically had their rooms cleaned daily.

If guests opt out of daily room cleaning, hotel management schedules fewer housekeepers. Management often asks the few housekeepers who are called back to work overtime, rather than calling in more housekeepers. This means thousands of furloughed housekeepers like Sally are still at home, waiting.

“I’m so upset to know that management is scheduling other housekeepers to work overtime, while most of my co-workers and I are staying home waiting to be called. I need work, too. I have four kids to support. Since May of last year, I’ve been selling siomai [a Filipino delicacy] just to survive,” says Sally.

Eliminating daily room cleaning means more money for the hotel companies, but housekeepers pay the cost.

Our Hawai’i state government recently gave a $313 million tax break to corporations, but they refused to give a tax break for unemployed workers like Sally.

Legislators claim that this tax break would help employers hire back workers. But the state is doing nothing to make sure employers actually bring back the workers that they laid off due to the pandemic.

“If we don’t fight for it, then we don’t have a job”

Sheraton Maui housekeeper Marilyn Fernandez was one of many housekeepers who called for daily room cleaning at her hotel

To date, the only UNITE HERE Local 5 hotels that have automatic daily room cleaning are The Kahala Hotel & Resort, Ala Moana Hotel, and Sheraton Maui.

Housekeepers at the Sheraton Maui pushed management for months to win daily room cleaning. Sheraton Maui housekeeper Marilyn Fernandez happily returned to work in March 2021 after being furloughed for a year, only to enter a world of pain.

“It was very hard when I went back. Oh my God. After the first day, it felt like I had a C-section. The rooms are so dirty when there’s no daily room service for many days. We need the rooms cleaned every day for our safety,” says Marilyn.

Sheraton Maui workers demanded to meet with management every week over Zoom, pushing for daily room cleaning as well as other measures that will bring back workers safely. They also passed out leaflets to guests, letting them know that for every day they opt out of daily room cleaning, a hotel housekeeper won’t get paid to clean their room.

Sheraton Maui workers demanded to meet with management every week over Zoom, pushing for daily room cleaning as well as other measures that will bring back workers safely.

Management had most of the housekeepers come in for training in March, but Marilyn knew that daily room cleaning was the only way to guarantee her job. “If we don’t fight for it, then we don’t have a job. How can we get our medical? How about the kids? We have a lot of bills.

The company isn’t going to hand you a job. Remember when we went to strike in 2018? We would never get raises and benefits if we didn’t fight for it, right? If you don’t fight for it, you don’t get it,” says Marilyn.

Her message to Local 5 housekeepers who are still fighting for daily room cleaning: “Be patient and do something. Leaflet every day. Show the company that you’re going to fight. We’re lucky to have our Union. At the non-union Marriott in Lahaina that my boyfriend is working at, there is no daily housekeeping. They only come in for check-out to clean. I don’t know what would happen to us if we don’t have the Union. I don’t know if we’d be working.”

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