Should hotel rooms be cleaned daily? Housekeepers in those jobs think so Daily room cleaning used to be standard in hotels. Now, the union UNITE HERE is fighting to bring that back, as hotels have cut back citing worker shortages and changing guest preferences.

Want your hotel room cleaned every day? Hotel housekeepers hope you say yes

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

With the summer travel season approaching, here's something to think about. That do not disturb sign you might hang on your hotel door, it's at the heart of a fierce labor fight going on behind the scenes at hotels across the U.S. NPR's Andrea Hsu explains.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: More than a hundred hotel workers and supporters marched in a circle around Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., last February.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Clean rooms.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Every day.

HSU: They were calling on the D.C. Council to extend a citywide requirement that hotels clean rooms daily unless a guest opts out. It's an issue the union Unite Here has been pressing since the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We are the union.

HSU: During COVID, a lot of hotel guests didn't want housekeeping to enter their rooms out of fear of the virus, so hotels didn't need as many housekeeping staff. Now the union is pushing to make daily cleaning standard practice once again, both to preserve jobs that are mostly held by women of color and to ensure that the job itself doesn't become even more taxing than it already is, because a room that hasn't been cleaned in days...

CHANDRA ANDERSON: The day you check out, that room is terrible.

HSU: Chandra Anderson has worked a couple housekeeping jobs in Baltimore, including at a hotel that was only cleaning rooms every three days.

ANDERSON: So much trash. And, you know, you never know what you're going to see.

HSU: This was not a big issue before the pandemic. But since 2020, the union's been fighting for daily room cleaning in cities across the country, from D.C. to Houston, to Honolulu. It's doing so through contract negotiations in some places and legislative efforts in others. The latest battleground, a key one, Nevada.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARILYN DONDERO LOOP: Good afternoon. And thank you so much.

HSU: State Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop, a Democrat, introduced a bill this spring to repeal a 2020 health and safety law that included a daily room cleaning requirement. This was back when scientists had said the COVID virus could live on surfaces for days. The union argued frequent cleaning was safer for everyone. But times have changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOOP: It's time to sunset a COVID house cleaning policy that served its purpose but outlived its necessity.

HSU: This week, Dondero Loop's bill cleared the Nevada Assembly and now awaits the governor's signature. The union had strongly opposed the bill, warning that if hotels aren't required to clean rooms daily, they will cut back, putting profits over jobs. It is true that hotel executives have talked up plans to save on labor, including in housekeeping. But Ayesha Molino of MGM Resorts testified that MGM is just responding to guest preferences. More than 40% of guests at their Las Vegas resorts declined cleaning this past year, she said, nearly double what it was before COVID.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AYESHA MOLINO: That means millions of our guests have been declining daily housekeeping.

HSU: In Nevada and nationally, the number of people working in hotel housekeeping is down compared to before the pandemic. And travelers have noticed. You've probably noticed. Now, Ayesha Molino from MGM said they are trying to hire. But competition for workers is a problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOLINO: It's not a matter of us trying to have fewer, it's that we can't rather attract enough.

HSU: The union says the problem is cyclical. With fewer housekeepers on staff, it's a less attractive job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HSU: Union housekeepers testified about feeling scared alone on a floor of one of those megaresorts on the Vegas strip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HSU: They spoke of coworkers who'd been attacked by guests and of the toll that heavy cleaning takes on their bodies. In Nevada, the union says it won't give up the fight. It plans to raise daily room cleaning in contract negotiations later this year. For now, its message to guests, you're paying for first class service. Why not use it?

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

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