Seattle hotel workers have finally achieved victory in their fight to gain new rights despite hotel corporations repeated efforts to block workers.
Legal Voice senior attorney Andrew Kashyap provided technical assistance to UNITE HERE! Local 8 throughout this effort, including providing strategy on rulemaking after I-124 originally passed, drafting an amicus brief to the Washington State Supreme Court to support hotel workers arguments, and finally by offering legal support to workers in their legislative campaign at Seattle City Council, particularly on the sexual harassment ordinance.
The battle for hotel workers rights began after the hotels thwarted Seattle Initiative I-124 through the courts last year. The workers took their struggle out of the courts and directly to the Seattle City Council, seeking legislation that would cover the same rights as the Initiative. And September 17, after the campaign by hotel workers and community supporters, the City Council passed four linked ordinances covering these rights by a vote of 9-0 on each ordinance!
The ordinances contain critical new rights to protect the safety and health of hotel workers, including sexual harassment protections tailored to housekeepers, safeguards that will reduce workload and injury to housekeepers, and a key right that provides hotel workers with funds for good health insurance coverage.
Legal Voice's efforts focused particularly on the sexual harassment ordinance given our policy goals of increasing effective tools for low wage workers to fight endemic harassment. A recent survey found that 53% of Seattle downtown housekeepers have experienced sexual assault or harassment. Under a key provision of the ordinance, guests who harass may not receive hotel services during their stay. Housekeepers are largely women and predominantly women of color and earn poverty wages; our work on this campaign represents a key example of Legal Voice's intersectional focus.
And our support of the new workload and healthcare rights is grounded in recognition that housekeepers have higher rates of injury than coal miners. Plus, the hotel industry's economic model has been grounded on squeezing housekeepers for more work at less cost-- despite the fact that the industry is having its highest profit levels since the 1960s. The workload law will provide housekeepers with extra pay when they go past a manageable square footage limit for the rooms they clean.
We are thrilled for our community partner UNITE HERE! Local 8 and its hotel worker members who led this hard-fought campaign! We also are grateful to have partnered with the Sexual Violence Law Center on this effort, and we thank Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez for their leadership at the City Council.