Hotel workers ‘claim our space’ as panic button ordinance takes effect
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Celebrating what they called a “cultural shift” for women workers’ rights, union activists and city officials gathered Sunday to ring in Chicago’s implementation of an ordinance requiring hotels to provide panic buttons for employees to report harassment.
Hotels are now required to supply portable panic buttons for workers who “clean, inventory, inspect or re-stock supplies” alone in guest rooms or restrooms, allowing them to send out alerts when they feel threatened. City Council passed legislation mandating the buttons in October.
At a Plumbers Union Hall press conference, Sarah Lyons — spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 1, which championed the “Hands Off, Pants On” campaign and represents about 15,000 hospitality workers — said the button is “not just a physical device, but a symbol” of city support and the fight against sexual harassment.
One hotel worker, identified only as Roushaunda, said the day marks “a culmination of a lot of hard work.”
“Today’s the day we say no more,” Roushaunda said. “Today’s the day we claim our space . . . We will feel protected.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying the workers “deserve not just our respect, but our sustained efforts to prevent, prohibit and punish harassment whenever and wherever it occurs.”
The legislation followed a Unite Here survey in 2016 that found that 58 percent of about 500 hotel workers polled had been sexual harassed by a guest. About half responded that guests had exposed themselves, flashed them or answered the door naked.
In addition to panic buttons, the legislation requires hotels to have a “written, anti-sexual harassment policy.” Hotels rolled out the policies, including workers’ rights to leave work if feeling endangered, in January.
The legislation impacts both union members and non-members, Lyons said.
City Clerk Anna Valencia said the victory “shows the power of organizing,” referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Wednesday in Janus v. AFSCME.
“While this week’s Supreme Court ruling was an attack on working families, today is the perfect example of how unions stand up and protect those who often need it the most,” Valencia said.