HTC gets strict safety agreement for reopening

Sanitizing Team Member Sheila Brown, Cassa Hotel

June 21, 2020 11:14 AM

Our Union has negotiated an agreement that extends the “Coronavirus Hotel Safety Protocol” and adds important new protections for our members as they return to work, takes steps to prevent outbreaks at a workplace, and makes sure members who contract the Coronavirus are able to take the time they need, with pay, to recover.

There is a real risk that, as businesses rush to reopen, they will cut corners. Desperate to make up for lost revenue and to lower their labor and operating costs, some businesses are willing to risk exposing employees and customers to Coronavirus. Many workers, who can’t afford to lose their jobs are effectively forced to agree to work in unsafe conditions. Also, in many workplaces, the risk of spreading the disease is exacerbated because employees who have little or no paid sick time are unwilling to report that they suspect they may be infected. The latest agreement negotiated by our Union changes that. It not only protects nearly 20,000 union members, but also every guest, manager and non-union employee of a hotel that signs the agreement. It effectively makes union hotels in New York City a much safer option for the public than non-union ones.

The agreement, as extended, achieves three critical aims: first, to protect workers from infection while at the hotel by requiring a series of safety measures; second, to contain any outbreaks that may occur through a testing protocol designed to identify infections early and take steps to prevent its spread, and third, to help workers who contract COVID-19 by providing enough paid time off so that they do not have to worry about providing for their families while they fight the disease.

Original Coronavirus Hotel Safety Protocol is Extended

Negotiated at the start of the pandemic, the original protocol agreement put in place a number of ground-breaking safety measures to protect the workers our union represents from contracting COVID-19 on the job. Among them were the creation of Public Space Sanitization teams to frequently clean public spaces and “guest touch points”, a requirement that guest rooms are cleaned every day using EPA-certified disinfectants effective against COVID-19, and the requirement that hotels be fully stocked with hand sanitizer and antimicrobial soaps for guests and employees. While the original agreement imposed significant costs by requiring the recall of employees to work on sanitization teams and to supplement room attendants (whose quotas had been reduced as a result of the time it takes to sanitize as well as clean rooms), the safety enhancements were invaluable. These critical protections are extended by the new agreement through August 1st.

New Agreement Strengthens On the Job Protections

Person-to-person transmission is the main way that the Coronavirus has spread across the globe. As hotels and casinos are reopening across the country, employers are refusing to make guests wear masks despite the risk to employees and the serious public health threat. As a result, there have been shocking increases in infections in places like Las Vegas. Our new protocol agreement makes union hotels require that guests wear masks, as well as install protective barriers and enforce social distancing in public spaces.

“We are going to make sure the union hotels in New York City are not going to become hot spots like the meat processing plants” says HTC Recording Secretary and General Counsel Rich Maroko. “If you’re traveling to New York City, you won’t find a safer place to stay than a hotel that has signed this agreement. Not only must these hotels follow enhanced safety protocols, but the employees are able to enforce that agreement without fear, and they are the ones most able and incentivized to do so.”

For housekeeping staff, the new protocol agreement requires the hotels take additional steps to prevent Room Attendants from contracting the virus when entering guest rooms. Room Attendants who are assigned to clean an occupied guest room cannot be asked to enter the room when the guest is present and the hotel must wait at least 15 minutes after the guest leaves before sending the Room Attendant to enter the room, leaving time for any possible airborne viral load to dissipate. It also requires HEPA-filtered vacuums, to prevent recirculating infectious material.

In May, the American Hotel & Lodging Association published a recommendation that effectively eliminated the routine cleaning of stay-over rooms. This is a blatant attempt to cut costs, by laying off room attendants, thinly disguised as concern for workers.  Not only will this result in rooms not being cleaned daily, which is directly contrary to COVID safety guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, but as those in the industry know, it will result in fewer Room Attendants being called back to work and a heavier (and more dangerous) workload for those who do, and that means guest rooms are more likely to be contaminated.

"Often, non-union employers disregard health and safety, making employees clean with toxic chemicals but without proper equipment or precautions and do too many rooms in too little time,” says HTC Assistant Director of Organizing Arisha Sierra-Blas. “Non-union workers have no right to refuse unsafe work because they can be fired legally for no reason. They have no choice but to follow orders that endanger themselves, their families, and the guests in these non-union hotels.”

New Agreement Requires Daily Temperature Checks to Prevent Outbreaks

Under the new protocol agreement, unionized hotels must check employees' temperatures daily in an effort to prevent the spread of infection and provide additional paid time off so that employees can afford to stay home and recover.

If an employee has a temperature over 100.4 degrees, they will be sent to be tested for COVID-19. The hotel will pay 100% of the cost of the test and pay the employee for that workday. While they are waiting for the results of the test, employees will be eligible for up to three additional paid days off. If the test comes back positive, they will receive up to an additional 20 paid days off to stay home and recover. All of these additional paid days will be paid at the employee’s benefit day rate, meaning that tipped employees won’t lose money simply because they’ve gotten sick.

Similarly, in the event an employee is called back to work and believes they were exposed to COVID-19 at home, the hotel will pay for the test, one day’s pay (at their benefit day rate) and one additional day while they are waiting for the test results. If they are positive for COVID-19 they will also be eligible for up to 20 paid days off while they recover.

“Our members will be some of the only service workers in the country who don’t have to choose between staying home if they feel sick and paying their bills” says HTC President Peter Ward. “I am proud of this agreement and applaud the unionized industry for doing the responsible thing. But there are tens of thousands of non-union hotel workers in our City who are going to return to work without protections, exposing themselves, their families, and the public. Our government needs to enact some common sense legislation and make non-union employers do their part to prevent another outbreak.”

This agreement means that the unionized hotel industry in New York City is doing its part, for the greater good, to revive the economy responsibly. Unfortunately, as we all know, those who are reckless are endangering everyone, not simply themselves.

You can find a full summary of the agreement, a list of the hotels that have signed it, and the text of the actual agreement here.