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As Chicago braces for Lollapalooza crowds this weekend, housekeepers, laundry workers, and restaurant workers at the Loop’s Hotel Monaco are calling for an end to pain that housekeepers experience on the job.
Monaco workers, a majority of whom are immigrant women, picketed the hotel throughout the day on July 31st, joined by union and non-union hospitality workers from across the city. Workers confronted their managers with safety concerns, followed by a press conference with testimonies about workplace conditions outside of the hotel at 225 N. Wabash Ave.
”We’re tired of working in pain,” says Mayra Muñoz, a housekeeper at the hotel for 14 years. “It has gotten to the point where I can barely lift my arms or bend down without feeling sore.”
UNITE HERE Local 1 surveyed 18 out of the approximately 29 members of the Hotels el Monaco’s housekeeping department in June and July 2015, including 14 women who identified as housekeepers. All workers who responded reported experiencing pain at work (responding affirmatively to the question “do you ever experience pain at work?”) 78% of respondents reported taking pain relievers, citing examples such as Tylenol or Advil. 72% reported having woken up during the night in pain.
Housekeepers consistently identified lifting heavy mattresses as a source of pain. Repeated activities like this can cause excessive stress on the back and shoulders. 67% of all respondents reported pain or discomfort in their right shoulder during the past year that they attributed to work and 78% reported the same in their lower back.
“I get home and collapse,” said Maricela Gonzalez, a Monaco housekeeper for 15 years and mother of three. “I can’t play with my children. I can’t cook for my family. I’m just exhausted.”
Half of the respondents said that their pain has prevented them from participating in family activities.
“Kimpton advertises that they believe in ‘empowering women and supporting their aspirations,’” says Gonzalez. “But we can’t pursue our aspirations when work leaves us exhausted and in pain.”
In the letter delivered to hotel managers, Monaco workers called on management to describe what it has done to reduce physical stressors for housekeepers. In 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identified a series of recommendations to a different Chicago hotel employer for reducing housekeeper injury risk, steps such as providing long-handled tools and reducing significant lifting tasks. Workers will also request copies of any job hazard analyses, workplace studies, or ergonomic evaluations that Kimpton has conducted as they have a right to do under OSHA rules.
Housekeepers walked out on strike in April at the Hotel Monaco for a fair process to organize a union. Since then, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the hotel, alleging intimidation, harassment, and other federal labor law violations. Kimpton settled the charges to avoid further litigation, but new charges have been filed against Kimpton’s Hotel Burnham.
The Hotel Monaco is owned by Xenia Hotels and Resorts (NYSE:XHR), a recently spun-off affiliate of Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group was purchased by Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (LON:IHG) last December.
UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.