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Aching bodies, broken lives – US Hyatt workers file injury complaints in 8 cities

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Housekeepers at 12 Hyatt hotels in 8 cities across the US have filed injury complaints with the federal Occupation Health and Safety Agency (OSHA). On November 18, delegations of supporters brandishing housekeeping tools turned up at 10 Hyatt hotels to show their support for the housekeepers’ action and to highlight the need for remedy.

The injury rate for US hotel workers is 25% higher than that for service workers as a whole; among hotel workers, housekeepers, who are overwhelmingly women, have the highest rates of injury and accidents; and an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine published earlier this year showed Hyatt housekeepers having the highest rate of injury of all the hotels studied - and double the injury rate for the lowest.

Five years ago ergonomics studies determined that lifting 12 or more king-size beds per day exceed federal limits on lifting. Housekeeper injury rates have soared since Westin introduced competition for oversize mattresses with its ‘Heavenly Bed’. The proliferation of huge mattresses (sometimes weighting in excess of 50 kilos) also brings with it more pillows and heavier coverings.

Speedup under the Hyatt ‘Refresh’ program now requires housekeepers at some Hyatt establishments to clean up to 30 rooms per shift – double the industry average. "Cleaning 25 to 30 rooms a day and making beds 'hospital style' demands working fast and lifting heavy mattresses," says Maria Carmen Dominguez, who worked at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio as a room attendant before getting a broken tendon and permanently injuring her shoulder. Management discourages injury reporting through, among other measures, a “Safety Bingo” prize which grows each day for which no injuries are reported.

The OSHA complaint proposes a number of simple remedies to reduce the housekeeper injury rate, including reasonable workloads, the use of fitted sheets to reduce the number of times that heavy mattresses have to be lifted and the use of long-handled mops and dusters so that housekeepers no longer have to work on their knees to clean floors – a debilitating position which, repeated often enough, can lead to permanent disability.

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