Hotel maids lobby for new rules to avoid disability

California is considering a bill that would require the state's hotels to use fitted sheets and long-handle mops to help avoid crippling disabilities for hotel workers.

CA Senate Bill 432, introduced by Sen. Kevin de Leon, the son of a housekeeper might seem like the worst kind of government meddling in the business operations of private companies. It could also be viewed as something that is long overdue for consideration as a worker safety regulation.

As reported in the Huffington Post and illustrated with video on California's own public affairs website, testimony was given to the California Senate Committee on Labor by a ten-year veteran of hotel hospitality work. She told legislators of crippling back and shoulder pain. It is all the result of lifting up to 25 mattresses a day, some weighing more than 100 lbs. in order to fold flat, bottom-of the bed sheets correctly to make them neat and snug.

To make matters worse, both sides of the mattress must be lifted to achieve the tight fit required by hotel housekeeping managers. With the rising popularity of queen and king-size mattresses, hotel workers wonder why their employers will not buy fitted bottom sheets that most of us use in our own homes.

According to a spokesperson for the largest hotel workers union in the country, UNITE HERE the California based union members were informed by compatriots in Hawaii that the Aloha State allows for fitted bottom sheets for hotel beds. It led to the call for similar measures to be adopted elsewhere. “What we see on a daily basis is women hurting their backs and ruining spinal disks,” said Leigh Shelton of UNITE HERE. “Especially with the introduction of this sort of more luxurious bedding. Go stay in a Westin and imagine these women having to lift them.”

In addition to joint and muscle pain, housekeepers' legs and knees become bruised and swollen from kneeling on tile and marble bathroom floors to scrub them the old fashioned way. Long handled mops would make the job easier and less punishing but are not provided to workers in California hotels, at this time. Ms. Eleazar Dumuk, testified that she and her colleagues used to have long-handled mops -- but one day, they suddenly disappeared.

As one would expect, the hotel and lodging trade group has an explanation for why the current use of flat sheets is desirable. Fitted sheets are hard to stack and more difficult to maintain because the elastic quickly shows wear and tear. Additionally, they are more cumbersome and take longer to launder in commercial machines. Lynn Mohrfeld, president of the California Hotel & Lodging Association, said that a good faith estimate of what the switch would cost hotels in the state amounts to $15 million per year.

UNITE HERE stated the obvious about the size of the mattresses compared to the average housekeeping employee. The vast majority of them are immigrant women whose average weight is only 25-30 lbs. more than the bulky bedding they need to lift repetitively day after day.

The Huff Post reported that the bill made it out of committee and will be considered on the floor of the California State Senate this session.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons