|By Meena Thiruvengadam, San Antonio Express-News|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 23, 2004 - Edith Balusek has been cleaning up other people's messes for 37 years. Her workdays start at 6:30 in the morning and usually go on until 5 or 6 in the evening.
"Our job is to keep the hotel clean," said the Menger Hotel executive housekeeper. For her, that means scheduling staff, tracking inventory, ordering supplies and picking up after guests. For her staff, that means scrubbing floors, vacuuming carpets, making beds, cleaning bathrooms, fixing things and doing laundry.
Balusek supervises 52 housekeepers, which she says is a somewhat lean staff for the nearly 320-room Menger Hotel.
The housekeepers, many of whom have been there for years, are family. They call her Ms. Edith and say she is like a mother to them. Some of their kids even call her grandma.
They say the people make the job special -- the people they work with and the people they work for.
"I don't clean for the hotel; I clean for the guests," said Ida Cruz, who's been at the Menger off and on for 17 years. "The most exciting part of this job is getting to meet all different kinds of people. Making them happy is my tip."
Sometimes, though, hotel housekeepers get tipped in addition to their regular pay.
In San Antonio, the Texas Workforce Commission estimates, average annual pay for a housekeeper or maid is $15,680, lower than the nationwide average of $17,000 from the U.S. Labor Department's May 2003 estimate.
Balusek declined to say what starting pay is for a housekeeper at the Menger but said it is "way above" minimum wage.
The Workforce Commission estimates average starting pay for a hotel housekeeper or maid in San Antonio at $6.05 an hour, or $12,575 a year.
For managers such as Balusek, the commission estimates the annual average wage is $26,715. With experience, that figure can jump to more than $30,000.
Almost 400,000 people nationwide are working as hotel housekeepers, according to a Labor Department estimate. More than 63,000 are employed as housekeepers or maids in Texas, with 7,060 of them working in San Antonio, according to the Workforce Commission.
Alamo Workforce Development labor market specialist Rick Zamarripa expects the number of housekeepers in the San Antonio area to grow.
"The need is there," he said. "We're very reliant on the travel and tourism industry. When you have that, you have hotels and motels that will produce a big onset of employees."
He expects hundreds of housekeeping job openings every year for several years, partly due to a high turnover rate.
Although Balusek says the turnover rate at the Menger isn't very high, she understands why people leave their hotel cleaning jobs.
"Once they find out how hard it is to clean up after other people daily, they don't want to do it anymore … It's hard labor."
Required weekend work is another factor keeping people out of housekeeping, she said.
Balusek is proof there is room for advancement in the field. She started working in the Menger's linen room and has since made her way up to head housekeeper. Six months of classes at San Antonio College, paid for by the company, prepared her for her supervisory position.
She says if a job seeker can pass a criminal background check and drug test it's fairly easy to get a housekeeping job if there is an opening.
"I had no training, and my English was not very good, but I was hired on the spot," said Balusek, who is originally from Germany.
There were no background checks or drug tests then, she said.
There have been other changes, too.
"A long time ago, it was not having enough education that got people into housekeeping. Now people just want to have a job," Balusek said.
It was having only a sixth-grade education and needing employment that lured Angie Guzman into the profession.
"When I came in, I didn't put much in my application because I didn't know how to fill it out," she said.
Guzman has been at the Menger for 16 years.
"You can make a career out of housekeeping even if you don't have education," she said.
Even though she's 69, Balusek doesn't see herself getting out of housekeeping anytime soon.
"I love it," she said. "It's very exciting. Every day brings a different challenge."
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(c) 2004, San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.