Hotel maids in Irvine say they are working a living nightmare.

Each day as they wheel their carts down hallways and enter a room to clean it, they never know what they’ll find.

Sometimes it’s an incredibly dirty room.

Other times, guests expose themselves. 

There’s even times when the guests touch maids inappropriately.

They’ve had enough.

“We have had too many incidents, we’ve had too much harassment,” one hotel maid said in a Thursday interview in Spanish. “The company unfortunately doesn’t care about us as human beings or Latinos.”

“They look at us like we’re robots.”

She is one of two housekeepers at the Irvine Hilton who spoke to the Voice of OC about their experiences. They have asked that their names not be used in order not to face retribution for their candid accounts and not be let go of a job they need.

Instead of being seen as robots, these women want their managers and hotel guests to understand they are mothers, wives, aunts, daughters and sisters. 

“We want a better salary and respect,” she said. “It’s a hostile workplace.”

The women are speaking out on a matter that they say their coworkers don’t always feel comfortable reporting in fear of retaliation from their employers or even losing their jobs.

“They’re vengeful,” one maid said of her managers. 

They hope a new ordinance expected to go before the Irvine City Council at a special Tuesday 3:30 p.m. meeting will help offer them greater protections at work like a panic button they can hit when they run into trouble or hostile guests.

And there are often hostile guests.

One maid said one time she was cleaning a room when the guest returned and when she was tucking in the sheets of the bed the man approached her and grabbed her by the waist.

“I turned around, gave him a dirty look and grabbed my things and left wondering what just happened,” she said.

“The guests look at us and treat us like we’re prostitutes but we’re not prostitutes we’re only trying to fight to better the lives of our children,” she said

Both are mothers of multiple children.

She has worked as a hotel maid in the city for almost two decades and said she has never experienced this level of harassment in any of the other jobs she worked.

In that same time period, Irvine has been ranked safest city of its size for violent crime 17 years in a row, according to FBI data.

Maria Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Unite Here 11 – a union that represents 32,000 hotel workers in SoCal and Arizona, questions who the city is safe for exactly.

She said part of a solution to the problem is for council members to approve the ordinance and follow the lead of cities like Long Beach, Los Angeles and Glendale.

“There have already been a lot of cities to approve this,” Hernandez said. “If this is happening at this hotel what is happening at the rest?”

She hopes the ordinance passes so workers who don’t have support from a union will at least have some protections and that union members plan to show up in “full force” Tuesday in support of the ordinance.

“Immigrant women of color like these are the backbone of Irvine’s hotel industry, and yet they are suffering assault and exploitation.  This is an emergency and the Irvine City Council must act now.  Caring about Irvine means caring about housekeepers. Passing these protections now, is how we do that,” said Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11.

Laguna Beach voters this November will also decide on Measure S which would implement similar protections for hotel workers as well as make minimum wage for hotel workers in the city $18 an hour.

It’s not just hotel maids at the Hilton in Irvine or in SoCal who are experiencing harassment like this.

Across the country issues like this are popping up and cities are passing ordinances to address the issue.

Unite Here 1, Chicago’s hospitality union, published a survey in 2016 of 500 women working in Chicago hotels and casinos called Hands Off, Pants On.

The survey found that 58% of hotel workers have faced sexual harrassment from guests.

The survey also found that 49% of housekeepers surveyed have had guest(s) expose themselves, flash them, or answer the door naked.

Both hotel maids have worked in Irvine for a decade or more and both said they have faced similar experiences.

One maid said she recently had to deal with two guests exposing their private parts to her while she tries to do her job and provide for her family

“I don’t want to see a naked man in my work or anywhere but at work you think you’re safe but you’re not,” she said in Spanish.

In one incident she said she was crouching down putting towels in her cart and when she turned around there was a naked man with his private parts in her face asking for a towel.

When she reported the incident to the manager then, she said he told her not to worry because the man was leaving.

“A lot of things like this have happened; these are just the most recent ones,” she said, adding that experiences like this have happened at other hotels she worked at.

She said she came to the U.S. because there was no work in her country. She is also the mother of three children.

“We are mothers or sisters or wives – they look at us like we’re nothing. They don’t give us respect as workers or people,” she said.

It’s not just harassment these women face.

Due to Covid, the hotel stopped doing daily cleaning of the rooms – shifting to one cleaning every four days – which the women say makes cleaning one room feel like they’re cleaning four without the proper compensation.

The ordinance in Irvine would restore daily room cleaning and provide fair compensation for heavy workloads, according to Hernandez.

Irvine Could be First OC City to Pass Protections Ordinance

While cities in nearby Los Angeles County have passed similar ordinances, Irvine council members have a chance to make their city the first one in Orange County to offer these protections to workers and grant them a better peace of mind.

The proposed ordinance would require hotel employers to provide workers with a “personal security device” that they can press when they feel in danger.

It also requires a security guard to be available at all times to respond when the device is pushed.

The ordinance would forbid employers from trying to prevent workers from reporting such behavior to the police. It would also grant workers paid time to file a police report.

The proposed law deals with more than just safety.

It would also put a limitation on the workload employers assign to their employees and mandate daily cleaning of rooms.

Violations of the ordinance can result in lawsuits, injunctions and a fine.

To read the full ordinance, click here.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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