|By Niala Boodhoo, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 20, 2009--Hotel chains like to tout their large, comfortable beds as a selling point, but those 125-pound mattresses are likely causing greater injury to female, Hispanic and Asian hotel workers, according to a study to be published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in January.
The union Unite Here provided data on 2,865 injuries at 50 hotels from the nation's five largest chains: Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. The study did not include luxury properties.
It was analyzed by a group of academics, who found that female, Hispanic and Asian hotel workers were 1.5 times more at risk of injury than white men. Hispanic housekeepers were twice as likely to be hurt.
The work of a housekeeper has changed dramatically as beds have gotten bigger and workloads more strenuous, said Francine Jones, a Hyatt Regency Chicago housekeeper who has spent 18 years in the industry.
"The mattresses, the carpets, the vacuums -- it's all very heavy," said Jones, who spoke during a teleconference by the union, which singled out Hyatt workers as having the highest risk of injury. Hilton as the lowest.
"When you go to your own doctor and they say you need to stay home, Hyatt is not going to pay workers' comp for you to sit at home," she added. "Their doctor says you're fine, you can go back to work, just on light duty, and there's no time to heal."
In a statement e-mailed to The Miami Herald, Hyatt said its workers' health and safety were its highest priorities.
"It is clear that the union's conclusions are not consistent with the workplace environments in our hotels," Hyatt said.
Unite Here is in the bargaining process of negotiating several contracts with hotels across the country. The union has tried to negotiate, for example, with Hyatt that workers clean 16 rooms a day, down from 32. They also ask hotels to provide fitted sheets, so housekeepers don't have to lift up mattresses as much to tuck sheets under, and mops, so workers don't have to kneel to clean bathrooms with a rag.
Government data has historically shown that Hispanic workers are disproportionately more likely to be injured or killed on the job, regardless of industry.
The study's authors said it was too early to pinpoint exactly why in this case, female, Hispanic and Asian workers were more at risk.
"It could be language barriers, it could be discriminatory job task assignments -- there is no data at this point in the occupational injury world that explains why some groups are getting more injured than others," said Susan Buchanan, a University of Illinois Chicago public health professor.
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