Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.
The New York Times has an article about failure of most hotel guests to give low-paid, hard-working housekeepers a much appreciated tip. Aside from the hard work they do, the Times also notes the hazards of the job.
Angela Lemus, a housekeeper at the Wyndham Boston Beacon Hill who makes $19.91 per hour, said through a translator that in addition to scrubbing tubs and taking out trash, she sometimes has to clean blood or other medical waste from rooms….Desk clerk jobs don’t require the flipping of heavy mattresses or exposure to cleaning chemicals that can lead to respiratory and other health problems. Ms. Lemus, for example, developed an allergy to the latex gloves she was required to wear while cleaning. “It went on for years, and it got so bad my hands started to bleed,” she said. “I couldn’t let people see my hands.”
And let’s not forget musculoskeletal disorders from lifting bed mattresses and the threat of workplace violence from guests.
But are these really the same issue? Are tips the solution to dangerous working conditions, or is elimination of hazards the solution to safe working conditions? The Occupational Safety and Health Act says that all workers have a right to a safe workplace, whether they receive tips or not.
Implying the tips make it OK to work in hazardous conditions makes them sound like “hazard pay” and hearkens back to the good old pre-OSHA days where workers allegedly agreed to “assume” the risks of a job in return for a paycheck.
We’ve supposedly come a long way since then. Workers — even hotel housekeepers — deserve a living wage (including tips) for their work, AND workers have right to a safe workplace.
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