The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry, including hotels and those who work in them.
Many who have been impacted are Black and Brown women. Before the pandemic, 14.6% of all Latina workers in the U.S. worked in the hospitality sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Many working as housekeepers are older women who are Spanish-language dominant.
Maria Delgado worked as a housekeeper in Chicago for 16 years until she was fired in October. She said her job meant everything to her, and she depended on it to help her family, pay bills and her mortgage.
Delgado, who is 60 years old, says her age is a barrier to finding another job. Hotel employees Melisa Magaña and Teresa Hernandez said their ages also make it difficult to find other jobs.
“I’m not very young anymore,” said Magaña, who worked for four years as a housekeeper at Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago. “It’s difficult. I’ve applied to jobs and it’s not easy out here. I don't think it’s fair that we have to struggle, be stressed out looking for a job when we already have one. We lost it because of a pandemic, not because of our fault.”
When guests begin returning, Hernandez fears she won’t have a job waiting for her.
“I’m very afraid. I’m so nervous, sometimes I don’t sleep,” said Hernandez, who worked as a banquet server at Swissotel Chicago for 20 years. “I'm thinking they're probably not going to call because of my age, and it’s very difficult, very difficult, because too many years I was there and they just threw me out. It’s hard.”
A pending ordinance in City Council — the Hotel Worker Right to Return Work Ordinance — would require hotels to offer former employees the right to return to their old jobs before hiring new workers.
“We want to make sure that the people who have dedicated their lives — often the breadwinners, often single moms, often people who provide health care, pay the rent, put food on the table — that they’re able to go back to work,” said Karen Kent, president of UNITE HERE Local 1, which is advocating for the ordinance. “That there’s a recovery for everybody.”
But Michael Jacobson of the Illinois Hotels and Lodging Association, says the ordinance would be difficult to implement and overly burdensome to the hotel industry.
In a statement, the Illinois Hotels and Lodging Association said:
“Hoteliers and their employees want to get back to work as soon as possible. With the demand for rooms down a staggering 77% from one year ago, jumping through more regulatory and paperwork hoops isn’t going to suddenly jumpstart the economy and bring hospitality jobs back. Instead, we should be focused on working together to advance two of the industry’s top priorities: getting our workers vaccinated and being able to safely resume larger meetings and events within our hotels. IHLA has been working on these two efforts for several months and it is disheartening that our union partners oppose working with us on real measures that will get their members — and our employees — back to work, while keeping them safe.”
Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago and Swissotel Chicago could not be immediately reached for comment.