MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Ever since Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with sexually assaulting a housekeeper at a New York hotel last Saturday, we've been hearing from diplomats, economists and politicians, but we haven't heard much from other housekeepers. And we wondered, how often are they confronted with situations that range from uncomfortable to outright sexual harassment?
NPR's Margot Adler has that story.
MARGOT ADLER: Your idea of a hotel housekeeper might come from the movies, like this scene from "Maid in Manhattan."
(Soundbite of movie, "Maid in Manhattan")
Ms. FRANCES CONROY: (as Paula Burns) Mr. Greenwald is checking in. He's back on the wagon, so let's clear out the minibar. Mrs. Sage is arriving with the children, preferably after Mr. Sage's girlfriend departs.
Unidentified Woman: (as Mr. Sage's Girlfriend) You son of a (bleep).
(Soundbite of glass breaking)
Ms. CONROY: Let's make sure it's a smooth transition.
ADLER: Reality is a lot more grueling. Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, says most hotels in New York are unionized. Housekeepers make 15 to $20 an hour. But remember, it's a really physical job. Housekeepers might do 14 to 18 rooms a day - about 25 minutes per room.
Ms. RENETA MCCARTHY (Senior Lecturer, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University): Putting on sheets, and typically the sheets that the housekeepers are dealing with are not fitted sheets. So they have to pick up the mattress and tuck them under and tuck blankets and whatever. Those king-size mattresses are heavy, the queen-size mattresses are heavy. Vacuuming every room. They're scrubbing tubs, toilets, cleaning the bathroom floor.
ADLER: And when McCarthy would interview job applicants...
Ms. MCCARTHY: I would say that the job was pretty much the equivalent of working a construction job.
ADLER: She believes sexual harassment is much less prevalent than most people suspect. But here in New York City, on our local NPR station, WNYC, host Brian Lehrer opened the phone lines to hotel housekeepers during his morning program over two days. A number of housekeepers and former housekeepers said they often had to fend off men who approached them, or they found themselves facing other problematic situations.
Take Vivian Vasconcellos, who called in from Bronxville, New York with this experience.
Ms. VIVIAN VASCONCELLOS: He was this old guy. He was a regular. While in the room he used to leave the door a little bit open with a porno movie on and he knew we were there cleaning the other rooms. He leaved his door open, we could see that he was naked.
ADLER: None of these housekeepers say these things happen all the time, but Kathryn Carrington, who lives in Jersey City and who worked for the Grand Hyatt here for 30 years, says there were perhaps a dozen incidents in those years.
Ms. KATHRYN CARRINGTON: Some of them made passes at me and I said, hello. If I'm in the room, I just hurry out and leave them. Some of them would come out with towels around them and playing the dropping the towel. I just go outside to the car and tell my supervisor, I'll go back to the room later, but I would like someone to be there with me, you know, to escort me there.
ADLER: Several housekeepers who called said the guests saw them as desperate, as if they were lucky to be approached and even acknowledged. The housekeepers were there for their needs and pleasure.
Professor McCarthy says she came across only one serious harassment experience during her work in hotels. But remember, she says, when a housekeeper comes to clean your room, it's a personal experience.
Ms. MCCARTHY: Somebody's coming into your bathroom and touching your belongings. You know, making the bed after you've slept in it. So, you know, for somebody to open up the door and maybe have a towel wrapped around their waist, I think the person is acting like they might act at home.
ADLER: So perhaps there is a little confusion about boundaries here.
Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.