Nenita Ibe, who will turn 71 in February, says she still hasn’t fully recovered from a shoulder injury she sustained in March of 2009 during her housekeeping shift at the Hyatt Santa Clara. As she was lifting up a hefty padded mattress to tuck the sheets underneath, a task she’d completed hundreds of times before and continued to perform hundreds of times after, “I heard a crack in my shoulder,” she recalls.
Ibe says the pain worsened over time as she continued performing her housekeeping duties – tucking sheet corners, pushing heavy carts, standing on the sides of bathtubs or on top of toilet lids to clean overhead bathroom tiles, crouching down to pick up discarded towels or disinfect floors. In June of 2012, she underwent surgery to alleviate the chronic shoulder pain. “It feels better,” she told the Guardian, “but I feel pain when I have to use it too much.” She’s now following doctor’s orders to refrain from working, and relies on disability coverage to help make ends meet. Ibe says her workers’ compensation claim has yet to be resolved.
Repetitive motion injuries have been a flashpoint for UNITE HERE Local 2, a hotel workers’ union that helped kick off a campaign calling for a global boycott against the Hyatt hotel chain  last summer. Several weeks ago, the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf reached a settlement with California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) resolving a set of citations, two of which pertained to repetitive motion injuries.
Local 2 trumpeted the deal as a “landmark” agreement because it will establish an eight-member Housekeeping Committee tasked with identifying best practices to prevent exposure to such injuries. Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t unionized, but Local 2 has been trying to facilitate union formation at that facility.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is unprecedented,” Local 2 spokesperson Julia Wong told the Guardian. Half the committee will be made up of non-management housekeepers selected by their coworkers, she added. “It’s an incredible opportunity because it’s a requirement that housekeepers themselves have a voice in how these best practices are developed.”
“I’m happy about the news,” Ibe said. “They should listen to the experienced room cleaners.”
The settlement stemmed from a set of citations issued by Cal/OSHA in November of 2011, following a regulatory investigation launched in response to worker complaints filed one year earlier. Regulators initially pinned Hyatt with two “serious” violations relating to ergonomic issues: A failure to minimize exposure to housekeeper repetitive motion injuries, and a failure to conduct mandatory training to warn workers about ergonomic health problems. Hyatt immediately appealed the citations.
The appeal process ended in December, when Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf agreed to the settlement with Cal/OSHA, pledging to convene the Housekeepers Committee and perform a job hazard analysis with the guidance of a certified health professional, among other things. The Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf will pay a $6,460 fine, and Cal/OSHA withdrew the serious ergonomic citations as part of the agreement.
Hyatt spokesperson Pete Hillan emphasized that “there was no evidence found” backing up initial ergonomic charges filed against Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, and criticized the hotel workers’ union for wasting taxpayer dollars by calling on state regulators to investigate. “What was found at Fisherman’s Wharf was the equivalent of lagging paperwork,” Hillan said. He insisted, “Hyatt is a very safe place to work.”
Local 2 represents hotel workers at the Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. Both of those remain under boycott, Wong said, “because the workers have been without a contract for three-and-a-half years now.”