“Wages are important, but that’s not why we’re on strike. It’s about being treated like a human being, with dignity and respect.” – Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra, organizer, UNITE-HERE Local 75
On October 27, 500 workers struck the Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto to demand safe workloads, fair wages, job security and workplace dignity.
On November 5, I invited union organizer, Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra, and two striking workers, Medhin Ghebre and Otis Anderson, to speak to mental health professionals about the physical pain and emotional trauma caused by their work.
Ghebre and Anderson, who have both worked in the housekeeping department for over 20 years, recounted how many workers suffered miscarriages because of overwork and the use of toxic cleaning chemicals.
Management refused to provide modified work during pregnancy, despite doctor’s notes prescribing it. Ghebre was told, “You signed up for 16 rooms a day and that’s what you’ll do.” She miscarried at 4½ months. Afterwards, she and the other room attendants physically confronted the manager to insist on modified work during pregnancy. They won that demand, but the loss of Ghebre’s child still pains her every day.
Management resent having to provide modified work and treat pregnancy as a shameful demotion, constantly commenting on how much less pregnant workers do for the company.
Anderson recalled coming to Canada from Jamaica, full of hope for her future. Two decades working at the Delta Chelsea have taught her that, “Hard work is not rewarded.”
Anderson is on the union’s negotiating committee. When she saw management’s first offer, she just cried. “We give them so much, and they give us so little back.”
Work shouldn’t hurt
“I take painkillers on a regular basis just to do my job,” said Anderson. “So many of us do. I’m a strong person, but the pain follows me home and it’s affecting my whole life. Work shouldn’t hurt this much.”
While the hotel is consistently full, staffing levels remain low, with lower-seniority workers getting insufficient hours and higher seniority workers being forced to do the jobs of 2 or 3 people.
The audience of psychotherapists learned that some people don’t blame themselves for their problems; they blame the greedy corporations that profit by exploiting them.
On Nov 9th, 3,500 Hyatt housekeepers in 12 Hyatt hotels in 8 American cities filed injury complaints with OSHA – the first multi-city OSHA filing in the private sector.
The members of UNITE-HERE Local 75 know that class solidarity is the best medicine and nothing is won without a fight. They inspire us all.
Read their report on the industry: Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain: How Hotel Work is Hurting Housekeepers.