Members and leaders of the union that represents hotel and hospitality workers gathered Monday evening to discuss the workers’ experiences with sexual harassment by guests and what the union is doing to create safer workplaces for its members.
The meeting of national and local leaders of the AFL-CIO, Chicago Federation of Labor and employees that the union represents — which includes hotel and hospitality workers — came less than a month after an alderman sponsored a loophole into the city’s sexual harassment ordinance that would weaken the legislation.
At Monday’s meeting, the 12 union members present — all women — largely expressed gratitude to leadership for making efforts to improve their workplaces, however they noted that there is still more work to be done.
“Bringing this to light is really comforting,” said one attendee, who asked to only be identified as “Millie.” “A lot of ladies go through this.”
President Richard Trumka and other members of the AFL-CIO leadership were in Chicago for a Midwest AFL-CIO strategy session and opted to meet with the union members while in the city.
“It’s our belief that sexual harassment is a workplace safety issue,” Trumka said. “We, as a labor movement, are dead serious about changing the culture of the workplace.”
Also present at the meeting was Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Ramirez also serves as chairman of the board for the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader.
Last month, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) sponsored a loophole to the city’s sexual harassment ordinance that would change it to only apply to employees who clean guest rooms and restrooms, according to Unite Here Local 1 spokeswoman Sarah Lyons.
“The anti-retaliation provisions … would therefore not apply to any employee who is not essentially a housekeeper or assigned to clean guest rooms and restrooms,” Lyons told aldermen last month. “That’s why it’s been a shock for the women and for us to see that.”
Lyons said hotel workers who “fought long and hard” for the ordinance were not consulted before Harris proposed watering it down.
The proposed amendment — which was not discussed at Monday’s meeting — remains in the Committee on Workforce Development.
Another meeting attendee, who only went by “Latonia,” said that when their union first distributed a survey two years ago that asked about sexual harassment in the workplace, she and her female co-workers had no shortage of experience to draw on.
“It’s one of those things that’s kind of normal in the hotels,” she said. “It’s normal for the housekeepers to talk about, so it was kind of easy when they came in asking questions about sexual harassment.”
She recalled telling a co-worker: “It happens all the time and this is our opportunity to talk about it.”
Several of the attendees recalled instances of reporting to their boss sexual harassment by guests. Their superiors, they said, would “laugh it off.”
All Chicago hotels were required to put sexual harassment policies in writing by December 2017. Hotel employees working alone must be provided with portable panic buttons by July 1.