‘Workers are not properly trained': hotel unions voice concerns for workplace safety

Front desk worker at Hyatt-Place Midtown in Anchorage.
Front desk worker at Hyatt-Place Midtown in Anchorage.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 7:03 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Since coronavirus arrived in Alaska, hotel workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic as they take care of the people quarantining in their hotels upon arrival. However, some that belong to local union, Unite Here 878, don’t feel they’re prepared to do their jobs safely.

Union President, Marvin Jones, said he’s received many complaints from the workers he represents about not being in the loop with the latest COVID-related information. He said many feel like they don’t have the proper training or know enough about the guests to feel safe.

“As I’ve spoken to dozens of workers, not one worker has told me that they were trained in how to put on a mask, how to wear proper gear, or what should happen if they feel that they’re exposed,” he said.

Jones said the employers should be directly responsible for letting the employees know procedures and policies to house potentially exposed people in hotels.

Jones said 878 represents about 850 workers in the state at nine hotels in Anchorage. He estimated about two-thirds feel unsafe based on recent surveys the union has conducted.

At the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association, President Alicia Maltby, said there are procedures in place to protect staff and guests in the hotels she works with. She said many are doing things like only cleaning a room when guests ask, waiting a few days before doing laundry and screening guests at the door.

A big issue 878 has right now is not knowing when a guest is quarantining.

Travelers are still required to submit a form telling the state where they intend to quarantine if they decide to forgo a coronavirus test before they travel or at the airport. Maltby said guests often tell the hotel if that’s what they’re doing.

Maltby said hotels aren’t legally allowed to directly ask a guest if they are quarantining. They can ask if they had recently traveled or if they are feeling any symptoms, but that is about the extent of it.

“Now, are they always going to be forthcoming? We’ll never know,” Maltby said. “Until somebody knows if they were exposed or not. But having those procedures in place is definitely taking some of the guesswork out of it. And I think at this point, you just have to assume everybody’s been exposed and take those protocols and procedures very seriously.”

These concerns continue as the American Triumph crew is working their way toward Anchorage.

DHSS said 85 of the 119 crew of American Triumph have tested positive for COVID-19. The City of Seward announced that the 34 who originally tested negative were being chartered out to Anchorage for self-isolation and symptom monitoring. American Seafood Company made a statement on July 19, that they’re working on getting the whole crew into Anchorage.

The Hotel Captain Cook confirmed that they are one of the hotels where some of those workers will quarantine but did not say how many.

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