CFL News
February 01, 2018

Chicago To Hotel Guests: “Hands Off Pants On”

Chicago To Hotel Guests: “Hands Off Pants On”

On Oct. 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article that sent shock waves through the entertainment industry. The story was about a powerful movie producer, Harvey Weinstein, and the allegations of chronic sexual harassment that spanned decades. What happened next could not have been predicted. Women came out of the shadows with stories of harassment at the hands of other powerful players in Hollywood, in government and virtually every other industry. The solidarity continued on social media when the viral #MeToo campaign allowed women to denote their own experiences. The movement was so powerful it generated a national conversation, with Time Magazine naming “The Silence Breakers” their 2017 Person of the Year.

About 18 months before any of this came to light, a group of women from UNITE HERE Local 1 participated in a survey that unmasked the widespread sexual harassment that silently plagues the hospitality industry. These brave women went on to publicly share their stories of harassment and saw for the first time that they were not alone.

With the help of the Chicago Federation of Labor and support from Chicago’s labor movement, UNITE HERE Local 1 began the “Hands Off Pants On” campaign, HOPO, to introduce a citywide ordinance to help protect hotel workers from unwanted sexual advances. The ordinance requires hotels to provide a “panic button” to any worker who works in rooms alone, such as guest rooms or restrooms. They must develop, maintain and comply with a written anti-sexual harassment policy, which includes allowing workers to leave the area of perceived danger. It also prohibits hotels from retaliating against workers for reporting harassment or assault by a guest, or exercising any right afforded by the ordinance.

“When City Council passed the ordinance, the cheer from the hotel workers in the room was full of joy, relief and pride,” said UNITE HERE Local 1 President Karen Kent. “We began this campaign listening to the stories of hundreds of women working in Chicago hotels about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault by guests. With this victory, we are breaking the ‘Sisterhood of Silence.’ Our members have expressed how empowering it feels to know that the Chicago labor movement and the city of Chicago have their backs.”

History

In early 2016, UNITE HERE Local 1 surveyed nearly 500 female members to understand the culture of harassment they face on the job. The study showed that female hotel and casinos workers face a high level of sexual harassment, mainly from male guests:

  • 58 percent of hotel workers and 77 percent  of casino workers said they were sexually harassed by a guest. 

  • 49 percent of hotel housekeepers said  guests had exposed themselves, flashed  them or answered the door naked.

According to the report, “Some women explained that they chose not to report some sexual harassment because inappropriate guest behavior is so frequent and widespread, it ‘feels normal’ or they had become ‘immune’ to it.”

Changing the Law to Change the Culture

After the leadership at UNITE HERE Local 1 processed the results of the survey, Kent contacted CFL President Jorge Ramirez to engage the larger movement in this fight.

“When Karen called, it wasn’t a matter of if we would get involved, but how,” said Ramirez. “Every day, the labor movement fights for dignity and respect in the workplace, and every worker’s right to a safe and secure work environment. No one should ever have to know what this kind of abuse feels like.”

The first step was creating a video to raise awareness of the problem. Ramirez and several male labor leaders read quotes from housekeepers and wait staff about their experiences with workplace harassment. To date, the video has been viewed more than 118,000 times.

“Filming this video was an eye-opening experience for all of us involved,” said Ramirez. “If we as a country are going to stop this type of behavior from happening, then we as men need to stand up and speak out against it.”

In early 2017, the CFL and UNITE HERE Local 1 approached 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris about an ordinance to help protect all Chicago hotel workers—union and nonunion—from sexual harassment and assault. Alderman Harris introduced HOPO at the April 19 City Council meeting, and over the next few months, Alderman Harris, the CFL and UNITE HERE Local 1 worked with city officials to finalize the language. In all, 18 Aldermen cosponsored the ordinance. The ordinance passed out of the Committee on Workforce Development on Oct. 2 and was approved by City Council on Oct. 11.

Afterward, Alderman Harris stated, “I’m proud and humbled to have helped make this ordinance a reality today. These workers are our friends and neighbors and deserve to feel safe at their jobs.”

Cecilia, a Chicago hotel worker and member of UNITE HERE Local 1, added, “To know I can easily call for help if something happens will be such a relief. I’m here today not just for myself but for my coworkers. We deserve to be treated with respect and to feel safe at work.”

“Unfortunately, sexual harassment leaves victims feeling too embarrassed and humiliated to want to talk about it with others,” said CFL Director of Political & Legislative Affairs Bridget Early. “While it took us 12 months to get this ordinance passed, my hope is women in cities across the country will see what we have done here and have the courage to start making changes where they live and work.”

Moving Forward

Since the passage of the citywide ordinance, UNITE HERE Local 1 has heard from women across all industries. They are working with their sister locals across the country to move similar laws within local and statewide municipalities.

“We have received a huge amount of support,” said Sarah Lyons, lead researcher on the HOPO survey. “HOPO is about real, concrete protections for hotel workers. It is also about creating a culture shift, where women are supported when they stand up and speak out. With so many women coming forward in Hollywood, at state houses, and many other workplaces, we are at crossroads: How do we create systemic change? The HOPO win is a testament to how organizing collectively can help transform an industry.”

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