Cristina Velasquez cleaned up almost every mess imaginable during her 21 years as a hotel maid, but the scene that awaited her when she opened the door to a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hollywood it a few months ago still haunts her.
When she entered she was struck by what smelled of dead animals and the sight of blood on the sheets. A lot of blood. Also, maggots and hypodermic needles. Velasquez reported this to his manager, who simply told him to clean it up as quickly as possible. She had a tight schedule. There was no time to investigate.
“It was disgusting,” Velasquez said in Spanish. “I lost my appetite that day.”
The pandemic has added stress to most jobs, but the job of hotel cleaners – already an occupation with high injury rates – has become increasingly difficult, with fewer workers facing tight deadlines to clean rooms more cluttered and dirty than ever.
To reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading, many of the country’s largest hotel chains have policies adopted which make daily housekeeping optional, allowing guests to choose how often housekeepers enter rooms. In most cases, that means housekeepers don’t enter until after guests have left, leaving days of trash, grime, and discarded towels to deal with.
Although demand for hotel rooms has returned to pre-pandemic levels in Southern California and other parts of the country, hotels have not replenished housekeeping staff to 2019 levels.
In Southern California, about 70% of housekeepers have been rehired since hotel closures and thousands of workers have been put on leave at the start of the pandemic, according to Unite Here, Local 11, a union that represents hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona.
Damage reported by housekeepers includes mounds of fast food packaging, piles of dirty towels, half-eaten takeout containers, sticky floors of spilled drinks and, sometimes, feces smeared on the walls from the bathroom. A housekeeper shared a photo with The Times of a bed covered in hundreds of nitrous oxide capsules, made for whipped cream dispensers but often used by people who inhale the gas for a quick, dizzying high.
Before the pandemic, housekeepers entered rooms on a daily basis, making cleaning and sanitizing faster and easier with the daily build-up of clutter and grime, said Kurt Petersen, co-chair of the union which represents more than 32 000 hotel and airport employees. Under the new policies, fewer housekeepers are now required to perform roughly the same number of daily cleanings in the same short deadlines as before the pandemic, but the increased clutter is making these jobs more labor-intensive. ‘work, he said.
“The pandemic has been an uninterrupted and absolute disaster for the health and safety of housekeepers,” said Petersen. “Cleaning a room that has been left untouched for days is not only more difficult and time consuming, it is also much less safe for guests and workers. “
The new conditions are likely to increase the already high injury rates among hotel cleaners, he said.
University studies and the government labor statistics show that hotel maids suffer from one of the highest accident rates among service workers. Most injuries come from lifting mattresses to make beds and moving dusty furniture.
“Changes in hotel room cleaning practices that result in increased workload – eg understaffing, less frequent room cleaning resulting in heavily soiled rooms – are likely to pose risks increased work-related injuries for hotel room cleaners, ”said Pamela Vossenas. , a researcher who co-authored a 2010 study that found that hotel cleaners had the highest injury rate overall and the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries among hotel workers. hotel studied.
At the end of each shift, Velasquez, 48, said she returned home with back pain from moving mattresses and furniture and sore knees from kneeling to mop the floors in the room. bathroom and shower stalls.
If the guests knew how difficult her job is, she said, they wouldn’t leave such a mess.
Riley Wood, general manager of Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates the Hilton Garden Inn Los Angeles / Hollywood, declined to comment.
A spokesperson for Hilton Hotel & Resorts said the company gives guests “the choice and control of the level of housekeeping services they desire” because guests can have “varying levels of comfort with anyone. ‘one entering their room after checking in “.
Representatives of the hospitality industry say the new housekeeping policies are aimed at ensuring the safety of workers and guests and are preferred by guests.
A survey conducted for the American Hotel and Lodging Assn. found that 81% of hotel guests feel safer staying in a hotel if daily housekeeping is suspended.
“When it comes to room cleaning, hotels follow both guest preferences and the most recent CDC Tips for hotel employees, “the accommodation association said in a statement, citing the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that” rooms occupied by the same guest for multiple days should not be cleaned daily , unless requested. “
the World Health Organization disagrees with the CDC’s recommendations, saying: “All programs where guests can voluntarily forgo housekeeping services should be suspended in order to maximize the health and safety of hotel staff and residents. clients.” WHO policy suggests that guests and staff will be less at risk of infection if rooms are regularly cleaned and disinfected by workers wearing gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment.
During a recent eight-hour shift, Velasquez took notes and took photos of his workload.
Her manager asked her to clean 14 rooms that day. This includes changing bedding, cleaning and sanitizing the bathroom, dusting, replacing soiled towels, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning tile and hardwood floors. With a 30 minute lunch break, that would only give him 32 minutes per room.
She started her shift at 8:32 am It took her 45 minutes to clean the first room. Heaps of dirty towels littered the bathroom and trash littered the whole room, outside the trash cans. She was already late.
The second room was much cleaner – no trash or towels on the floor – and she was able to finish it in 30 minutes. But by 10 a.m., she had only cleaned two rooms.
Velasquez started the third room – also very crowded and dirty – at 10:12 a.m. and it took him until 11 a.m. to complete it.
It took him an hour to clean the fourth room. The most physically demanding part of the job was lifting the mattresses to replace the sheets and vacuuming under the bed, she said. Most of the time, she works alone.
By the time she was on her lunch break, she had cleaned only five of the 14 rooms she had been given. She was frustrated and tired. Velasquez said she repeatedly told her manager that the rooms were too crowded and dirty for her to meet the daily quota. Stick to the schedule, he was told.
“I go from room to room and it’s the same,” she said of the workload.
Towards the end of her shift, she entered the bathroom in her twelfth bedroom and discovered that a guest had smeared feces on the walls of the shower stall.
“I don’t know what kind of people are staying here,” she said. “Why are they doing this? Maybe they feel they have a right to do it.
It took her over an hour to clean the room, using bleach to remove the smell from the bathroom.
Several of her colleagues had to come to her aid so that she could complete the 14 rooms by the end of her shift at 5:30 p.m.
It was common: she usually doesn’t finish her daily work because the rooms are too crowded and dirty. She fears losing her job for failing at her daily tasks, but hopes her hotel workers union will support her.
Usually exhausted when she gets home, Velasquez tries to spend time with her husband and two sons, ages 20 and 18, at the end of the day. She doesn’t want them to feel abandoned.
She doesn’t know how long she can keep up the pace, but she knows she can’t stop. She has to work to support her family.
“I worry because I know I need a job,” Velasquez said. “But the harder I work, the more work they have for me.”