May 3, 2006
“By the end of the day, the pain is so bad I can barely move,” says Hasime Hashimi, 37, a housekeeper at the Allerton Crowne Plaza Hotel, 701 N. Michigan.
Three doctors have said her severe back and shoulder pain is a direct result of her work. One prescribed the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, and told her to take it every day after work with 800 mg. of Ibuprofen, followed by a hot shower for at least a half hour.
“After that I lie down, sometimes for hours,” said Hashimi, quoted in a report on job-related injuries for hotel housekeepers issued last month by UNITE HERE Local 1. “Most days I can’t cook for my two children.”
“I feel like I have a construction job.”
She’s not far off, according to the report: housekeepers have a greater rate injuries than any of 20 manufacturing jobs, including auto and truck assembly.
Housekeepers are subject to preventable and sometimes disabling injuries — including back and shoulder injuries, bursitis of the knee, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hand and wrist pain — at twice the rate of other hotel workers. As a whole, hotel workers have a 51 percent higher rate of disabling injuries than other service sector workers, according to the report, “Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain.”
While instituting a dramatic reduction in staff-to-room ratios, the hotel industry has unleashed a competitive “amenity race” which has piled on the workload, especially heavy mattresses and luxury linens, said Lars Negstad of Local 1.
The mattress on the Hilton hotels’ new “Serenity Bed” is over a foot thick and weighs 113 pounds, according to the report. Housekeepers can handle well over 500 pounds of soiled linens – and an equal amount of clean linens – each day.
The report cites an ergonomist’s study which rated housekeepers’ work at 1.29 on OSHA’s Lifting Index, with 1.0 being heavier than a healthy worker could be expected to lift over a sustained period of time.
“It’s outrageous what they’re doing to these women, it’s inhuman, treating them like machines to be driven harder and harder to push up the bottom line,” said Negstad.
While the occupational hazards of housekeeping are a new area of study, various initial data show “significantly higher rates of injury than [jobs] traditionally thought of as risky” said Dr. Peter Orris, director of the Occupational Health Service Institute at UIC. Orris guesses housekeeping could well be in the 90th percentile of risky occupations. And with the growing demands of the job it seems clear the rate of injuries is increasing, he adds.
“I would think the industry is noticing these rates of injury” and ultimately would seek help studying and alleviating the risks, as other industries have done, Orris said.
Studies show that regular rest breaks are needed to recover from bodily stress and prevent injury, according to the report. Last August, Illinois enacted a law requiring two 15-minute breaks a day for hotel housekeepers in Cook County. Within days the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association filed suit to block the law. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for May 26.
Women who work as housekeepers and their children will gather at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Clark, at 12 noon on Thursday, May 11, for a Mothers Day event calling on hotels to give housekeepers breaks. Housekeepers will give a bed-making demonstration, and children of housekeepers will speak.