Hyatt defends safety record after OSHA complaints

By Julie Wernau
Posted Nov. 9, 2010 at 4:39 p.m.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. defended its safety record Tuesday, following an announcement by the hotel workers union that it has filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on behalf of Hyatt housekeepers.

The complaints are being filed on behalf of workers at 12 Hyatt properties, including four in Chicago, citing more than 780 injuries that have been recorded on OSHA logs at those hotels. Unite Here, the union filing the complaints, cited injury rates that are 50 percent higher than the rest of industry.

Robb Webb, chief human resources officer for Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corporation called Unite Here’s accusations of a dangerous work environment “false” and aimed at increasing union membership and dues.

“Hyatt cares deeply about the health and safety of its associates,” he said. “We are proud of our work environment, which we constantly strive to improve through training, worker feedback, employee recognition programs, room design, and other initiatives.”

The union has launched a campaign against the chain in an effort to lower the number of room housekeepers are expected to clean, holding up a study of hotel worker injuries at 50 U.S. hotels published earlier this year in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine as evidence that Hyatt housekeepers sustain the most injuries in the industry. The union provided data services but did not fund the study – which was blind and did not reveal the names of the hotel chains.

According to the union, room attendants are required to clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is considered standard in the industry.

“Some work so hard and so fastly that when they come home they cannot even lift a coffee mug or a pen,” said Lorena Lopez, director of the union’s Housekeepers Rising Initiative.

At Hyatt Regency Chicago – the subject of one complaint – that number is 16 rooms and the union is negotiating a contract that would eliminate one of those rooms, arguing that luxury bedding has increased workloads for housekeepers.

“Behind the experience of comfort and luxury that hotel housekeepers provide is a persistent pattern of pain and injury,” said Lopez.

Hyatt prefers to assign housekeepers to clean a variable number of rooms based on workload rather than room quotas, said Hyatt spokeswoman Farley Kern, as some rooms need to be fully cleaned while others need only be refreshed.

Documents from the contract negotiations obtained by the Tribune show that, in lieu of a decreased room quota, Hyatt is offering to allow housekeepers in Chicago to leave up to an hour early if their work is done.

In complaints, the union calls for Hyatt to swap out flat sheets for fitted sheets to reduce the number of times housekeepers much lift beds to tuck corners. They’ve also asked that Hyatt switch to using long-handled mops and dusters instead of rags, which require that housekeeper clean bathroom floors on hands and knees.

Kern said the hotels train associates to ensure that the beds are made safely to reduce injuries. She said all the necessary supplies for safe cleaning are available to housekeepers, including step stools, long-handled mops and duster extensions. Webb said that both the frequency and severity of injuries have been on the decline at Hyatt hotels.

According Hyatt Regency Chicago documents, housekeepers are told to clean bathroom floors with rags and to affix a rag to a broom if necessary to avoid injuries.

“Ladies make their own mops,” said Francine Jones, a room attendant at Hyatt Regency Chicago for 19 years who says she and other housekeepers are taking pain pills to deal with a variety of injuries including muscle strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and old injuries that never had time to heal.

At Hyatt Regency Chicago, there were 17 recorded housekeeper injuries in 2007, 27 in 2008, 14 in 2009 and 12 so far in 2010, according to the OSHA complaint.

Other housekeepers complained about a game called “Safety Bingo” at some Hyatt properties which provides departments with monetary rewards for having the least number of injuries in a month. Eunice Zapata, a room attendant with San Antonio Grand Hyatt, said workers are afraid to report injuries; else they suffer the wrath of their peers.

Kern said the program is designed to encourage and reward safety and is in no way intended to discourage workers from reporting injuries. The complaints are being filed on behalf of workers in San Antonio, Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Honolulu and Indianapolis.

A regional OSHA spokesman was unable to confirm that the complaints had been filed late Tuesday but said the agency would first decide whether the complaints have merit. Any resulting investigation of the hotels would be unannounced.

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