Chicago will become the second city in the country requiring hotels to implement panic buttons on July 1. Seattle was the first city to make such requirements.
The ordinance, called “Hands Off, Pants On,” was passed unanimously in October 2017 by the Chicago City Council. It’s aimed at protecting housekeepers from sexual assault.
“It’s an ordinance that the city passed to make sure hospitability workers in our industry are safe and able to work in an environment that’s free from sexual harassment, or at least gives them the tools to get assistance if needed,” said Karen Kent, president of UNITE HERE Local 1, a union that represents more than 15,000 hospitality workers in Chicago and northwest Indiana.
The union conducted a survey in 2016 that found 58 percent of its participants – 500 female hotel workers – had been sexually harassed by guests, including incidents of sexual assault.
The survey also found that 49 percent of its respondents had guests expose themselves or answer the door without any clothes on.
“That was striking for all of us,” Kent said. “We asked people directly, ‘If you have a panic button, would you feel safer?’ And almost 100 percent of them said yes.”
Latonia – a housekeeper at a Chicago hotel who’s asked not to share her last name or her employer – was one of the survey’s participants. She says most housekeepers work alone.
“The challenge is when we have to go to those rooms and not know what’s going to happen,” she said. “As a housekeeper, you always have to have your guard up.”
Kent and Latonia join us tonight to discuss the new ordinance.