Some hotel workers wonder and worry about what a June 20 reopening will look like and what safety measures will be in place when they return to work.
Hospitality workers met last week to discuss their concerns on a Zoom hosted by Local 217 Unite Here, a union representing workers in the food service and hospitality industry.
Maria Ines Orjuela, a housekeeper for seven years at the Hilton hotel in Stamford, voiced her trepidation.
“My biggest fear is my own personal safety,” said Orjuela. “My work puts me on the front line. I touch people’s dirty clothes, dirty towels, sinks, toilets, everything and I fear that there are not enough safety protocols in place to guarantee my safety if I return to work on June 20.”
The Centers for Disease control says that “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads.”
However, workers are still worried.
“Our health is more important than money,” Monique Douglas, who has worked at the Hartford Hilton Hotel for a decade, said. “We need to worry about what this will do to our health, not the economy.”
Douglas, who suffered a stroke last year added, “We need to have proper protection. We can’t work with regular masks on, we need to have masks with ventilators like construction workers so we can breathe.”
The industry is looking to make sure its guests and staff stay safe.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association instituted new industry-wide hotel cleaning standards in response to COVID-19.
Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of Connecticut Lodging Association, is meeting this week with other Connecticut officials to outline and formulate guidelines for the safety procedures that will be put in place for Connecticut’s Lodging industry. The safety procedures will follow the directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Connecticut with Disabilities Act.
“We have to remember how this virus came into the state; through travel,” said Kozlowski. “So, we have to be very careful. Governor Lamont wants to be sure that the best protocols and procedures are in place to keep the guests, the associates and the residents of Connecticut safe. We don’t want any more outbreaks.”
She added, “Overall the industry feels ready and there is overwhelming support to reopen in June. Guests will see a lot of changes; laundry services and high touch points will definitely be handled differently. Also, daily cleaning will change, for instance; if a guest checks in on Monday and does not check out until Thursday, the room will not be cleaned in-between that time, to limit the exposure for the guests and the associates.”
Other changes will include breakfast buffet procedures, if they are allowed at all, no contact room service, pool and hot tub use and business and banquet meeting areas.
Donald Jean Marie, who works as a bellman at the Greenwich Hyatt is worried about his role as employee and father.
“As a bellman, it’s my job to make a good first impression. I often talk, walk with and take guests all the way to their rooms,” said Marie. “I am frustrated and afraid. I have a 3-year-old daughter at home and my wife is pregnant. She is due next month. What if I come home sick? My ultimate job is to protect my family. I want to be a good husband and father, but I don’t know how I can do that if I am being forced to risk my life at work.”
Aedan Moran, a server for seven years at the Omni Hotel at Yale, has the same concerns.
“I want to work, but I am scared. We need adequate health and safety standards,” said Moran. “In the kitchen, you have cooks standing shoulder to shoulder and servers moving around each other all the time, social distancing is not possible. How is that going to work?” he said. “I am afraid for myself and my family. I don’t want to bring something home to them.”
Connie Holt, secretary-treasurer of Local 217 Unite Here, said at the moment many of the workers don’t feel safe returning to work. “Lamont needs to set up strong, comprehensive health and safety guidelines before the next phase of reopening,“ Holt said.
Lamont has said the exact rules and regulations for businesses reopening during phase two will be sent out at least two weeks prior to June 20.
Unite Here is proposing that the following safety measures are put in place; thorough cleaning of guest rooms, procedures for maintaining social distance and measures to ensure that workers have enough time to complete their tasks. In addition, Unite Here is requesting that employees who elect not to accept work be offered continued unemployment.
Holt explained that Unite Here is working with the Lamont administration to ensure adequate health and safety guidelines are put in place before phase two moves forward.
“We are engaged in discussion with the Lamont administration and are hopeful for a positive outcome,” Holt said. “The situation is grave: workers are scared for their lives. The health of our communities is on the line.”
None of the hotel workers who were part of the Zoom meeting last Friday had received any contact from their respective employers about return to work dates as of last week.
“We are hoping that everyone does what they are supposed to do, so we can welcome guests back on June 20,” said Kozlowski. “Leisure and business travel is very important to the state of Connecticut. This industry employs 74,000 workers and currently 34,000 are laid off or furloughed.”
Holt emphasized the long-term consequences for Connecticut’s hospitality industry, if things are not reopened safely and properly. She explained that the industry brings in more than $15.5 billion in business to the state yearly and a hit to hotels would be a huge loss to the state’s bottom line.