After guests left a corner room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort on Waikiki Beach, housekeeper Luz Espejo picked up enough trash, some strewn under beds, to fill seven large trash bags.
She removed the sheets from the beds, wiped the dust accumulated on the furniture and cleaned the layers of dirt on the toilet and the bathtub. She even got down on all fours to pick up confetti on the carpet that a powerful vacuum couldn’t swallow.
Like many other hotels across the United States, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has done away with daily housekeeping, making what was already one of the toughest jobs in the hospitality industry even more exhausting.
Industry insiders say the move away from daily cleaning, which has gained traction during the pandemic, is being driven by customer preferences. But others say it has more to do with profit and has allowed hotels to cut the number of housekeepers at a time when many of the mostly immigrant women who do these jobs are still reeling of job loss during coronavirus shutdowns.
Many cleaners still employed say their hours have been reduced and they are being asked to do a lot more work during this time.
“It’s a big change for us,” said Espejo, a 60-year-old from the Philippines who cleaned rooms at the world’s largest Hilton for 18 years, minus about a year when she was laid off during the pandemic. . “We’re so busy with work now. We can’t finish cleaning our rooms.”
Before the pandemic, 670 housekeepers worked in the Espejo resort. More than two years later, 150 of them have not been rehired or are on standby, spending every day from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. waiting for a phone call telling them there is work for them. . The number of people not rehired or on call stood at 300 just a few weeks ago.
“It’s about putting more money in the pockets of homeowners by putting a bigger workload on front-line workers and eliminating jobs,” said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a union representing workers. hotel workers.
While some hotels began experimenting with less frequent cleaning in the name of sustainability, this became much more prevalent at the start of the pandemic, when to promote social distancing and other safety protocols, many hotels began to offer room cleaning only if a guest requests it, and sometimes only after staying a certain number of days. Guests were asked to leave trash outside their door and call reception for clean towels.
But even as security restrictions ease and demand increases as the country enters peak travel season, many hotels are keeping their new cleaning policies in place.
A Hilton Hawaiian Village spokesperson said no Hilton representative was available for an interview about these policies at any Hilton property. Representatives from several major hotel chains, including Marriott and Caesars Entertainment, declined to be interviewed or did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group whose members include hotel brands, owners and management companies, said it’s the demands of guests — not the hotel profits – which have guided decisions about pandemic housekeeper services.
“A lot of guests, to this day, don’t want people entering their room during their stay,” he said. “Forcing something on a guest they don’t want is the antithesis of what it means to work in the hospitality industry.”
The pandemic has changed the norm for most hotel guests who want daily cleaning, he said, adding it’s not yet clear whether this will result in a permanent change.
Housekeeping policies vary by hotel type, Rogers said, with luxury hotels tending to provide daily housekeeping unless guests opt out.
Ben McLeod, of Bend, Oregon, and his family skipped housekeeping during a four-night stay at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii in March.
“My wife and I never really understood why there would be daily housekeeping…when there isn’t at home and it’s wasteful,” he said.
He said he expects his children to tidy up after them.
“I’m type A, so I get out of bed and make my bed, so I don’t need someone else to make my bed,” he said.
Unionized hotel workers are trying to spread the message that denying daily room cleaning hurts housekeepers and threatens jobs.
Martha Bonilla, who spent 10 years working at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino in New Jersey, said she wants guests to request daily cleaning, noting it makes her job less difficult. Even though New Jersey hotels are required by law to offer daily housekeeping, some guests still refuse to do so.
“When I come home from work now, the only thing I want to do is go to bed,” said Bonilla, from the Dominican Republic and single mother of a 6-year-old daughter. “I am physically exhausted.”
It’s not just partying guests like those who threw confetti in Hawaii that leave behind filthy rooms, housekeepers say. Even with typical use, rooms that have not been cleaned for days become much more difficult to restore to the sparkling, immaculate rooms that guests expect upon check-in.
Elvia Angulo, a housekeeper at the Oakland Marriott City Center for 17 years, is her family’s primary breadwinner.
During the first year of the pandemic, she worked one or two days a month. She regained her 40 hours a week, but with the rooms no longer cleaned daily, the number of people working per shift was cut in half, from 25 to 12.
“Thank God I have seniority here, so I have my five days again, and my salary is the same,” said Angulo, 54, from Mexico. “But the job is definitely harder now. If you don’t clean a room for five days, you have five days of scum in the bathrooms. It’s scum on scum.”
Many cleaners still do not get enough hours to qualify for benefits.
Sonia Guevara, who worked at a Seattle Hilton for seven years, really enjoyed the perks of her job. But since she returned to work after being laid off for 18 months, she is not entitled to health insurance.
“At first I thought I would find a new job, but I feel like waiting,” she said. “I want to see if my hours change at the hotel.”
She said there are few other job options with hours conducive to having two kids in school.
Now politicians are addressing the issue, including Hawaii State Rep. Sonny Ganaden, who represents Kalihi, a Honolulu neighborhood where many hotel employees live.
“Almost every time I talk to people on their doorstep, I meet someone who works in a hotel and then we talk about how overworked they are and what’s going on and the working conditions,” a- he declared. “You have a lot of first- and second-generation immigrants who are sort of left dry by these non-daily room cleaning requirements.”
Ganaden is among lawmakers who introduced a resolution calling on hotels in Hawaii “to immediately rehire or recall employees who have been terminated or furloughed” due to the pandemic.
If that’s not enough, Ganaden said he would be open to stronger action as other places have done.
The Washington, D.C. City Council passed emergency legislation in April requiring hotels in the district to service rooms daily unless guests opt out.
Amal Hligue, an immigrant from Morocco, hopes the rules mean more hours at the Washington Hilton where she has worked for 22 years. She needs it so that her husband can benefit from health insurance.
“I hope he has this month because I worked last month,” she said.
At 57, she does not want to find a new job. “I’m not young, you know,” she said. “I have to stay.”