Posts Tagged ‘hospitality industry’

Housekeepers, Revisited

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Back in September we blogged the mass layoffs of housekeepers at the Hyatt Hotels in Boston. After unknowingly training their replacements, long-term employees were laid off, their jobs taken over by employees of a temp firm called Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS). Given the the low wages and marginal benefits offered the replacement workers, this solution was lacking in hospitality, to say the least.
Well, there is more to the story. As we read in an article by Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times, a study is about to be published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine on the disproportionate rate of injuries among housekeeping staff in several hotel chains. The findings of the report were presented to the annual meeting of the American Plublic Health Association in Philadelphia.
Would it surprise you to learn that injury rates among housekeepers in the Hyatt chain are nearly double that of the Hilton Hotels? Or that injury rates for hispanic and asian workers were twice as high as those for other workers? The study focused on 50 unionized properties and examined 2,865 injuries over a three-year span. The highest injury rate for housekeepers was at the Hyatt chain, at 10.4 percent, and lowest at the Hilton chain, at 5.47 percent.
Root Causes
Let’s put on our MBA hats and perform a little “causal chain” analysis. The Hyatt Hotels find themselves paying too much for workers comp coverage. The high rate of injuries among housekeepers is driving up their costs. With cost reduction as the over-riding goal, the hotel strikes a deal with HSS, outsourcing the jobs. The cost of labor acquired through HSS is certainly lower for Hyatt (even when you factor in HSS admin and profit), but HSS also assumes responsibility for any workers comp losses. It is incidental and perhaps irrelevant to Hyatt that the work is being performed at much lower wage rates and with fewer benefits. From the Hyatt perspective, the goal has been achieved: hourly labor costs have been reduced and someone else is holding the bag on the cost of injuries.
When you ask the wrong question, you often end up with dubious answers – and, in this case, a public relations nightmare. The right question, of course, is why are Hyatt housekeepers suffering injuries at twice the rate of Hilton employees? As we back up the causal chain, the MBAs at Hyatt should have zeroed in on the real issues: Are we providing the requisite orientation and training for our employees? Are supervisors focused on best ergonomic practices? How well are we managing injured workers: do we provide prompt treatment and speed return to work through modified duty?
Hyatt opted to throw out the housekeepers with the bathwater- a solution that immediately gave rise to largely unforeseen problems, the most prominent being a tongue-lashing from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. In full disaster-containment mode, Hyatt has offered to continue health insurance coverage and maintain wages of laid off employees – if they agree to join the ranks of HSS. (This “loss leader” of higher wages and benefits comes to an abrupt end next spring.)
One way or another, Hyatt will ride out the PR storm, but the fundamental problem of unsafe practices among housekeepers remains. Perhaps HSS, in the midst of slashing wages and benefits, will commit to making the work and the working conditions safer. I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, the rooms at the Hyatt will continue to appear spotless, despite the fact that no one seems to care about the people who make them that way.

Restaurant Workers in NYC: Bad jobs = Bad risks?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

In a fascinating study of restaurant workers in New York City, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York presents the results of a survey of over 500 workers and over 30 employers in the industry. There are about 165,000 restaurant jobs in the city, comprising 4.8% of the workforce. The median wage for these workers is $9.11 (meaning, of course, that half make less than that amount!). Fully 90% of the workers receive no health insurance benefits. Most have no paid vacation and no paid sick leave. The majority of the workers are Hispanic and Asian. The jobs are for the most part dead end, with no training and no focus on safety and health.
In addition to long hours, low wages and no benefits, many of these workers are subjected to very difficult working conditions: hot kitchens, slippery floors, aging equipment. Discriminatory practices are rampant. If workers miss time due to illness or family emergencies, they are usually fired. The turnover rate is very high.
Everyone at Risk
As we review this litany of third world conditions for thousands of restaurant workers in New York City — and then multiply that by similar conditions in major cities throughout the country — some might well ask, “so what? It’s not my problem!” Ah, but it could easily become your problem. Poorly trained workers may not handle your food properly. Workers without health benefits ignore their symptoms and drag themselves to work, day after day, thereby putting the eating public at risk. Lacking sick leave, desperate employees may bring highly contagious problems into the kitchens and serving areas.
The Voice of the Employers
The report includes surveys of employers. They report the difficulty of operating in New York: the high rents, high fixed costs, the high cost of insurance. The uncertain market where they never quite know how many meals will be served. Some would like to pay benefits, but say they cannot afford it. To be sure, the report sites a number of successful restaurants taking the “high road” by paying good wages and benefits to a stable group of employees.
Where’s Comp?
In reading the 70 page report, I sought in vain for any reference to workers compensation. The report takes note of frequent workplace injuries — slips and falls, burns, cuts — but describes a process where the worker simply treats him or herself, or perhaps goes to the emergency room, where the bill ends up on the hospital’s tab. Where’s workers compensation? While health insurance, paid sick and vacation time are discretionary, employers must provide workers compensation coverage for all employees. Indeed, you would think that injured workers unable to perform their jobs would quickly latch on to comp, with its 100% health coverage and indemnity benefits. I am puzzled by the absence of any mention of comp benefits. It’s a classic conundrum: these “low road” restaurant operators, with their underpaid, low skilled, limited English speaking workforces, are poor comp risks. Comp benefits may be the only benefits on the table for these workers. On the other hand, it appears that workers comp, at least in this particular study, is off the radar screen. Not only is it not abused (as one might expect it to be), it is not even used for routine treatment of minor workplace injuries. I wonder how much these exploited workers know about their basic rights, from minimum wage and overtime to workers compensation.
It’s food for thought, even as we sit down in a comfortable booth and wait for someone (what did he say his name was?) to deliver our meal.