‘Put life before work': Anchorage union pushes for better hotel working conditions

A hotel worker cleaning up a room at the Hyatt Place Midtown hotel in Anchorage. Here,...
A hotel worker cleaning up a room at the Hyatt Place Midtown hotel in Anchorage. Here, management says they do not house people intending to quarantine.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 7:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a recent state hearing, local union Unite Here 878 shared with lawmakers that some workers they represent in the hotel industry are “terrified” of going into work during the pandemic. Now, the union president is pushing for more measures to be taken to keep employees safe.

Marvin Jones, president of the local union chapter, said he’s heard multiple concerns from the workers he represents about hotel management not being clear about coronavirus procedures. He also said many of those workers are afraid that they are cleaning up after guests who have been staying in hotels on a mandated quarantine, whether they be seasonal workers or travelers.

“There’s misinformation as far as where people are located as a place to be quarantined,” Jones said. “And workers are walking into those rooms not knowing that there’s a person being quarantined in there.”

Jones said neither he nor any workers he’s been in contact with have been told whether or not the hotels are housing anyone who is staying for an extended period of time for quarantine.

Concern for working conditions during the pandemic also comes from uncertainty about what happens if workers get coronavirus. Jones said many of the union workers don’t know if they would be able to take the time off for self isolation or to get a test and still have a job to come back to.

“These answers are not easily ready to these workers and so there’s mass confusion in that sense,” Jones said. “And I think there’s a lack of sympathy toward these workers to get back to work really fast and not take the time necessary to make sure they’re okay.”

Jones also said there is a lack of space for social distancing in some employee break areas and a lack of personal sanitation materials for employees as well.

Unite Here 878 represents the workers of many hotels in Anchorage but not all of them. At Hyatt Place in Midtown, sales director, Leann Sommer said employees have felt safe, according to a recent internal survey.

However, she said they are looking closely at folks who plan to stay for an extended amount of time.

“We are currently not accepting the quarantine patients,” Sommer said. “That is to protect ourselves and because we are not set up as a medical facility.”

She also said that they aren’t alerted of people who are quarantining at the hotel and can only find out if the guest tells them that’s why they’re staying.

Channel 2 reached out to the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant, and Retailers Association, the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association, as well as DHSS to see if hotel management has any obligation to tell employees if guests are going through quarantine and have not heard back as of 7 p.m. Thursday evening.

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