From once rampant sexual harassment to their new role of eyes and ears in hallways, hotel housekeepers are revealing secrets of the job and debunking myths.
Five housekeepers at downtown Chicago hotels, who asked us to only use their first names and not reveal their workplace, sat down with NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Investiga.
For the women, their favorite part of the job is the flexibility that allows them to be home with their children as they leave for school and when they return, as well as the ability to meet people from all over the world who stay in Chicago.
The housekeepers discussed how their union, Unite Here Local 1, is fighting for their safety and better conditions. They also revealed the time of year in Chicago that most housekeepers dread.
#1 Sexual harassment was once widespread
The five women said they either personally experienced or know a colleague who endured sexual harassment on the job.
There is a universal three-knock rule in hotels. After three knocks, the housekeeper assumes the room is empty and is safe to enter.
“I enter the room, and there’s a guy standing there completely naked,” said LaTonia. “I felt embarrassed, ashamed and angry.”
The women said they’ve also been solicited.
“When I ask, ‘do you need service or do you want service?’ They ask, ‘what kind of service?’” said Faviola. “They make me angry because I don’t know what they think we are.”
A 2016 survey of nearly 500 women working in hotels in Chicago, conducted by Unite Here Local 1, found 58 percent of hotel workers experienced sexual harassment by guests. It prompted the union to push Chicago aldermen to implement panic buttons in all hotels. The ordinance passed with a July 1 implementation date.
The housekeepers said the panic buttons make them feel safer.
“We wear it with pride,” said LaTonia. “It’s scary being on those floors alone and knocking on doors and you never know what’s on the other side of that door.”
#2 The worst time of year for housekeepers in Chicago: Lollapalooza
The popular summertime festival, along with New Year’s Eve and Taste of Chicago, prove to be a challenging time each year, the housekeepers said.
“The guests leave behind a mess,” they explained. “A lot of damage, a lot of broken stuff, pictures off the wall, drugs…a lot of vomit. And during the festivals, if it’s raining…they come in with bare feet and there’s mud all over their feet, mud in the tub.”
The women said they typically have a half hour to clean rooms for a multi-night stay guest and 45 minutes for a check out, which they said it not enough time.
The Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association told NBC 5 that its member hotels have “policies in place to provide housekeepers with additional assistance and resources when rooms are excessively dirty.”
#3 Go green or save green?
The “green” program in hotels, which encourage guests to skip service or re-use towels in order to save the environment, creates problems for hotel workers, the housekeepers said.
“The guests think they are doing the right thing, but essentially what happens is it lays the workers off,” said LaTonia.
The housekeepers also explained that declining a turn-down means a bigger mess to clean up the next day.
“It doesn’t save anything. We use more water. We use more chemicals,” Dias said.
The Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association told NBC 5 that its hotel members are “committed to preserving the jobs of their team members by ensuring they receive the proper workloads.”
“Job growth and protecting our precious environment are not mutually exclusive, and I’m proud of our hotels’ commitment to both,” said Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.
#4 The most disgusting and outrageous things found in rooms
Hotel housekeepers have truly seen in all.
They said the most disgusting things they have found include vomit, unflushed toilets, toothpaste in the sink, used condoms in drawers.
“You have to get on your knees and look for them under the bed,” Dias said.
#5 The worst kind of guest
Even worse than the creepy or disgusting guest is the rude guest, the housekeepers said.
“No matter what you do, he’s not happy, she’s not happy,” Tina said. “You just have guests that complain because they want something free – a bottle of wine, a free night stay, breakfast. And they get it, but we’re the ones who face the consequences.”
#6 Their jobs go beyond just cleaning
In the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, where a gunman killed more than 50 concertgoers by shooting from a hotel window, housekeepers are now required to be extra vigiliant.
“If the guests don’t request service in a couple of days, we have to report that, so (hotel management and security) can come up and investigate.”
#7 Housekeeping is a taxing job
The housekeepers said a majority of their colleagues are on daily medication to relieve aches and pains.
“I had surgery on my rotator cuff due to repetitive work,” said Tina. “It’s a lot because you’re scrubbing down walls in the bathroom, scrubbing toilets, scrubbing sinks.”
The woman said they are on their feet for 8-hour shifts, pushing carts that can weigh upwards of 200 pounds.
It’s one of the reasons why Unite Here Local 1 initiated a citywide hotel strike in September, calling for year-round healthcare.
The women said during the slow tourism period in the winter months, housekeepers and other hotel workers were laid off without health insurance. The union negotiated with each downtown hotel by early October to end the strike.
#8 Should you really drink from those glasses?
Despite common hotel myths, the housekeepers said everything is wiped down and cleaned from one guest to another, from the TV remote, drinking glasses, drawers, mirrors and phones.
Mattresses are replaced every 3 months, the women said.
#9 Should you tip?
Tips have declined, the housekeepers said. They’re not required by any means but very much appreciated.
“If you stay three to four days, and you’re a mess every day you’re there, and I make it tidy for you, just out of appreciation, you should leave something,” said LaTonia.
The housekeepers said handwritten ‘thank you’ notes are often worth more than a couple dollars.
“A thank you note? Oh, it would just make me feel like I did something and they were satisfied,” Dias said.
“I like when they leave a note, saying I did a good job and they like my service. That makes me feel good,” Faviola said.
#10 Guest freebies and etiquette
Yes, go ahead and leave used towels on the floor. That’s not considered rude, the housekeepers said.
Also, there’s little the housekeepers won’t give you if you ask (except for themselves).
Extra hangers, chocolates, bottled water, toiletries? It’s all free of charge.
“I had this one guest who completely took my whole caddy, the whole thing! And then came back and asked for some more. I couldn’t do nothing but give them more,” Tina said.
“You always have to make the guest happy.”