California lawmakers are considering a bill that would require hotels to use fitted sheets and long-handled cleaning equipment, a move supporters say would reduce injury rates to housekeepers but one opponents believe piles on costly regulation.
“It’s unnecessary legislation,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, President & CEO of the California Hotel & Lodging Association. “We don’t understand where the issue of worker safety is coming from. The industry has been painted as not caring about our housekeepers, and we resent that. Housekeepers are one of the key departments in the hotel. If we don’t have them, we can’t sell the room the next night. We’re insulted that someone is saying their safety is the issue.”
Hotel Interactive tried to reach the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, for comment. His office referred calls to Unite Here Local 11, a union that represents housekeepers.
Cathy Youngblood, a housekeeper Hyatt’s Andaz West Hollywood in California and a member of Unite Here, claims the bill is about preventing workplace injury.
“I’m very proud to be a housekeeper,” she said. “I’m 60 years old, and I would like to retire with everything on my body working.”
Flat sheets require more energy and motion when dressing the bed, Youngblood said. The physical strain occurs when housekeepers lift mattresses and tuck in the sheet overhang, she said. The repeated motion of lifting, bending down and tucking in all contribute to injuries, she claimed, and a fitted sheet would reduce the amount of lifting.
“If they switched to fitted sheets and proper tools that housekeepers need,” she said, “that would put a dent in repeated motion injuries.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of injuries to maids and housekeepers.
According to the bureau, in 2008 about 120 of every 10,000 housekeepers missed work because of sprains, strains and tears. In 2009, that decreased to 113 per 10,000.
The rate of housekeepers who had to miss work because of back pain was 12 out of 10,000, relatively unchanged from the prior year.
According to research from the Los Angeles Times, the state Industrial Relations Department recorded workers' compensation claims for injuries from more than 7,400 housekeepers working in California hotels last year, including 883 who said they hurt their backs.
One often cited reason behind the injuries are the hotel bedding wars. In the race to offer plusher bedding, hotels have added higher quality – and often heavier – mattresses and topped beds with more pillows. But other guest room design changes have worked in housekeepers’ favor. The current trend favors beds that are higher off the ground, which means less bending over.
The hotel industry estimates it would cost at least $30 million to purchase new sheets and laundry equipment.
Another cost issue could come from legal action. The bill’s supporters say it does not provide for a private right to sue. But Mohrfeld said he believes the bill could also open up the industry to workers compensation insurance litigation.
“We’re worried the litigation will start and we’ll be focused on lawsuits rather than serving our guests,” he said.
CH&LA maintains that California lawmakers should not be in the business of regulating sheets. Mohrfeld said the hotel industry already is regulated by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and that individual hotels should be able to make the decision for themselves. Indeed, some California hotels opt to use fitted sheets.
“We’re a well regulated industry and we have our own OSHA,” he said. “If this was a safety issue, hoteliers would have shifted to fitted sheets a long time ago. Worker comps claims are much more expensive than fitted sheets.”
Both sides agree that the bill has the potential to affect the hotels across the country.
“Can you imagine how it would sweep through the industry if the housekeepers got the proper tools?” asked Youngblood, who recently traveled with a delegation of hotel housekeepers to meet with U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
Said Mohrfeld: “What happens in California usually happens first here and spreads across the nation in terms of legislation.”
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Bio: Beth Kormanik is managing editor of Buyer Interactive and editor of Hotel Interactive. She previously covered politics, government and higher education for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla. While at the Times-Union she won several state and regional awards, including the 2008 Freedom of Information award from the Florida Society of News Editors and the top honor in the 2007 Florida Bar media awards for large newspapers. Beth also was a reporter and editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Cincinnati Enquirer. Beth is a native of Columbus, Ohio, and a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.