Hotel maids face daily dangers
NEW YORK (AP) — Hotel housekeepers say they often feel a twinge of fear when they slide the keycard, turn the door handle and step into a room to clean it. What will they find?
For Argelia Rico, it was a naked man who touched himself as he ogled her. For Kimberly Phillips, it was a pair of dogs that tore into her leg.
This week the former head of the powerful International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was charged with chasing a housekeeper around his $3,000 a night penthouse suite and forcing her to perform oral sex on him at the Sofitel New York Hotel.
But labor groups and hotel housekeepers have reported at least 10 other attacks in the U.S. in recent years, from the Washington, D.C. suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., to remote Grand Island, Neb.
Labor groups say many more are hushed up because the victims are illegal immigrants or because hotels are wary of scaring off guests. Many hotels laid off security staff during the recession, leaving workers even more vulnerable, they said.
“It’s dangerous work,” said Yazmin Vazquez, who works at a hotel in downtown Chicago. “These customers think they can use us for anything they want because we don’t have the power that they have or the money that they have.”
Anthony Roman, a consultant based on New York’s Long Island who spent 30 years working security for hotels, said he saw dozens of incidents involving female room attendants, from drunken propositions to rape.
“They’re not an infrequent occurrence,” he said.
Roman said that while hotels try to make sure that housekeepers aren’t alone for their whole shift, “if you have a sexual predator by nature, all bets are off.”
At the luxury hotel in Toronto where Andria Babbington worked for 17 years, housekeepers especially hated doing “turn-down” service, which involves preparing beds for the night.
Some men would put money on the pillow, ask for sexual favors and tell the women they could take the money when they left, Babbington said.
Others took a more circuitous route to the same end: they would inquire about a housekeeper’s home country and how many family members they were supporting. Then came some sympathetic-sounding questions about much the hotel paid them — followed by an offer of money for sex.
Labor groups worry that the recession has created more danger by forcing hotels to cut back on both security guards and housekeepers. (AP)