Advocacy group addresses report on Nashville hospitality

Dozens of current and former housekeepers, along with occupational and health professionals and community members gathered for a press conference on May 23 at a downtown Nashville hotel to detail issues hospitality workers are facing and look at solutions for handling the health crisis.

The news conference was held at the Westin Hotel in downtown Nashville. A construction project there, according to a press release, was awarded $15 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) by the Metro Nashville Development and Housing Agency.

The news conference, sponsored by Workers’ Dignity, outlined the results of a preliminary report on the conditions hotel workers face daily at some of Nashville’s wealthiest hotels serving the tourism and convention industry. Vanderbilt University researcher Tristan Call said that the purpose of the report was to give people an understanding of the situations housekeepers face while working at Nashville’s hotels and reflect on the work other housekeepers and other workers are doing in similar low-wage jobs in Davidson County.

Call noted in the report that 18% of the housekeepers surveyed said they are being paid below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or below the time-and-half for overtime worked, and 94% of the respondents said they are earning below the federal poverty line wage. He also pointed out that 40% of the housekeepers said they did not receive any safety training on the job or how to handle toxic chemicals. He said the lack of training that would cause an injury is 46% higher for housekeepers than any other service-sector job nationally, according to the CDC and said that 79% said their employer did not allow them to seek medical treatment. Call said the reasons for employees being injured was the lack of break time. According to the CDC, if employees do not get breaks, they are 50% more likely to be injured on the job. He also said that 51% of the people surveyed said they were not allowed time off from their job because of an illness—or if they attempt to request time off, they could be fired.

The report also noted that workers are facing problems when it comes to accessing health care. More than half of the respondents said they were not allowed to take sick days off and those that take sick days rarely get paid for their time off. Heather O’Hara, director for Occupational and Preventive Medicine at Meharry Medical College, said that across the United States hospitality workers are at high risk for on-the-job injuries and becoming sick. O’Hara said that employers are required to provide safety and hazard training for their employees, but that was not happening. She also pointed out that the housekeepers should receive continuous training on house cleaning chemicals used on the job.

“You cannot expect to go to work and not be able to understand that chemicals they’re using can harm them, harm their lungs, harm their skin, potentially harm their children. These things have to occur,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara said their employers should have personal protective equipment for safety and training. She also called for workers’ compensation to cover the cost of employees’ injuries on the job.