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Connie Schultz
27 Aug 2014
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Outsourcing Hotel Housekeepers Creates a Real Mess

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Recently, housekeepers at three Hyatt hotels in Boston thought they were training new workers for vacationing staff.

Managers asked the housekeepers to do this, and why not? They were experts at cleaning up the messes of strangers. So they taught the new workers everything they know.

Unfortunately, the housekeepers didn't know they were taking a high road thick with weeds.

On Aug. 31, about 100 housekeepers at the Hyatt Regency Boston, Hyatt Regency Cambridge and Hyatt Harborside at Logan International Airport learned they had just lost their jobs to those trainees, who were replacement workers from a Georgia company called Hospitality Staffing Solutions.

One housekeeper, who had worked at a Hyatt for 22 years, told The Boston Globe that her co-workers cried and screamed upon hearing the news.

This was an unusual move for a hotel, but not a new one for America — outsourcing jobs to save money at the expense of local workers. The Globe's Katie Johnston Chase reported that the new housekeepers will make only $8 an hour, which is nearly half the pay of their predecessors. They will not have the health, dental and 401(k) benefits of the housekeepers they replaced.

Massachusetts Lodging Association President Paul Sacco said he didn't know of any other hotels doing this, but he also didn't see the big deal.

"If you stayed at the Hyatt last night and you bumped into the housekeeper, would you notice a difference?"

Apparently, Sacco thinks some people are interchangeable, especially the ones we don't know. Anonymity is handy when you're trying to downgrade somebodies to nobodies.

Sacco must have been mighty surprised by the Boston politicians and business owners calling for Hyatt boycotts last week, not to mention the hundreds of protesters outside the Hyattt Regency Boston.

Wild guess here, but I'm thinking somebody did notice the difference. So very American, in the best way.

Hotels are only as good as the rooms they keep, and the quality of their housekeeping has a lot to do with repeat business.

The higher the standards the longer the housekeeper's checklist:

Empty trash; replace towels and bedding; restock wet bars. Vacuum carpeting and mop floors. Scrub toilets and showers. Clean up God knows what else travelers feel free to leave behind for human beings they almost never meet and rarely tip.

The good news is not all Hyatts are created equal, which is why housekeepers at the Hyatt Regency Cleveland still have jobs.

"We're a decentralized company," Robert Kallmeyer told me Thursday. "We general managers have the flexibility to make decisions for our individual hotels."

His housekeepers are not expendable.

"There's got to be some loyalty there," he said. "Sometimes there's more to business than making money."

Imagine.

Hotels have fallen on tough times. Cleveland is no exception.

"None of the hotels here (is) doing well," Kallmeyer said. "There's not the same amount of business travel coming to Cleveland. ... Companies are trying to do whatever they can to attract travelers, and what helps is having the right amenities. Rates go out the door. You provide transportation; you offer a great ballroom for meetings."

What you don't do, he said, is sacrifice your people.

Kallmeyer said his core staff of 25 housekeepers has remained the same in number, with steady wages and benefits.

"We have not cut staff to save money, and we have no plans to change that business model."

I have to put the Hyatt Regency Cleveland on my referral list for out-of-town visitors.

When it comes to choosing a hotel, it's a traveler's market these days. Where you lay your head could have an impact on people you may never see.

So the next time you're reserving a hotel room, tell the person on the phone you think housekeepers should make living wages with benefits.

Then ask how they treat the person who will clean your room.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, "Life Happens" and "... and His Lovely Wife." She is a featured contributor in a recently released book by Bloomsbury, "The Speech: Race and Barack Obama's 'A More Perfect Union.'" To find out more about Connie Schultz (cschultz@plaind.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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