Standing with Seattle Hotel Workers in the Fight Against Workplace Sexual Violence

The #MeToo movement has created a powerful and needed platform for sexual assault survivors to find their voices and use them to demand change. Through this critical movement, an undeniable spotlight has been cast on workplace sexual violence and the power dynamics that perpetuate it.

But this movement hasn’t fully recognized the years-long effort to elevate the voices of low-wage workers—including farmworkers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, office cleaners and hotel workers—who have long experienced acute rates of workplace sexual violence in addition to rampant workplace violations, such as wage theft. A contributing factor to the exploitation such workers face on multiple fronts is unlawful gender and race occupational segregation that confines women—particularly women of color and immigrant women—to these arduous low wage jobs, which are often in isolated conditions.

Hotel housekeeping is a prime example of such an industry. Nearly 90% of hotel housekeepers in the U.S. are women; in Seattle that figure is just over 80%. A vast majority are women of color and immigrant women. In a recent survey of Chicago hotel housekeepers, nearly 60% reported having been sexually harassed by a guest. But such endemic harassment is often hidden by the fact that the people being abused cannot speak up for fear of losing their jobs or, for many in the hotel industry, a fear of deportation.

In November 2016, Seattle voters passed the Hotel Employees Health and Safety Initiative (I-124) aimed at curtailing harassment faced by hotel housekeepers, improving access to affordable family medical care, and reducing workplace injury for the city’s hotel workers in the face of longstanding hotel employer inertia. Since then, Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards and local advocates have been working to implement the initiative by developing tangible and effective rules to accompany it.

Legal Voice’s Andrew Kashyap has been advocating alongside hotel workers and UNITE HERE Local 8, the Northwest’s hospitality union—as well as other allies including Fair Work Center, Puget Sound Sage, and 21 Progress—to ensure strong rules that back up the initiative’s strong mandate to protect workers. The Office of Labor Standards (OLS) recently released its proposed rules and, while Legal Voice commends OLS for its generally thoughtful draft rules, we’ve identified several gaps between the draft and the goals of the initiative passed by voters. Legal Voice submitted comments on the draft rules, urging OLS to:

  • Explicitly outline employers’ obligations in providing panic buttons to its employees, a core tenet of the initiative to reduce sexual assault and harassment of housekeepers that OLS left unaddressed in its draft;

  • Expand upon workers’ rights to report guest violence, including assault, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, as well as employers’ obligation to keep a record of accused guests and prohibit guests on that list from returning to the hotel for at least 3 years; and

  • Provide clearer language to workers about their new rights and in language that is more accessible to workers with varying levels of English proficiency.

​ You can read Legal Voice's complete comments here.

Photo credit: Luke Air Force Base | Creative Commons

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