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Hotel union alleges COVID cleaning policies are harming workers, reducing job availability

The housekeepers' union says the Washington Hilton is using COVID as cover to cut jobs.

WASHINGTON — Like anyone who has lost hours or even their job because of COVID, the past two years have been hard on hotel workers. Travel restrictions and general COVID concerns kept many regular hotel guests away, meaning less business generated. 

"Trying to feed the family, trying to stay above water, pay bills," hotel housekeeper Donyale Whitaker said of her pandemic struggles. 

For many, their work has come back as guests have returned. But at the Washington Hilton in Northwest D.C., the housekeepers' union, Local 25 Unite Here, said many of its members are still unnecessarily out of work.

"They're losing benefits for their family, they can't feed their family," Whitaker said as she joined other housekeepers to protest on behalf of those working at the Washington Hilton outside the hotel. 

The housekeepers are now struggling not because of COVID, the union says, but because of a company policy. Hilton rooms are only cleaned when a guest requests it or checks out, meaning fewer hours of work, keeping fewer people employed. 

And when housekeepers do get work, they say it is harder to clean a room only once after checkout. 

"Holding rooms for a couple of days, it collects dust, trash -- it stinks," said Whitaker. 

"Same price, less service," added Local 25 Unite Here member Paul Schwalb. 

Schwalb said the company is using COVID as a cover to cut jobs while other unionized hotels in town are already back to daily cleaning.

"We're concerned that if the Washington Hilton gets away with it, it's going to spread," Schwalb said. "Everyone's looking for more profit."

According to the most recent District data, hotel stays in November were up nearly 200% from a year ago. But, overall occupancy is still below pre-pandemic levels.

"Hilton offers guests the choice and control of the housekeeping services that meet their needs and comfort levels," the Washington Hilton said in a statement. 

The statement also said the hotel is continually assessing staffing needs.  

Whatever this hotel, or any other hotel, decides to do, the workers say there is something guests can do to help right away.

"Tell them to clean [your] room every single day," said houseman Gamini Perera.

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