By Chris Hawley,
NEW YORK — Hotel housekeepers say they often feel a twinge of fear when they slide the key card, turn the door handle and step into a room to clean it. What will they find?
For Argelia Rico, it was a naked man who touched himself as he ogled her. For Kimberly Phillips, it was a pair of dogs that tore into her leg.
Last week the former head of theInternational Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was charged with chasing a housekeeper around his $3,000-a-night penthouse suite and forcing her to perform oral sex on him at the Sofitel hotel in New York.
Labor groups and hotel housekeepers have reported at least 10 other such incidents in the United States in recent years, from Gaithersburg to remote Grand Island, Neb.
Many more are hushed up, labor groups say, because the victims are illegal immigrants or because hotels are wary of scaring off guests. Many hotels laid off security staff during the recession, leaving workers even more vulnerable, they said.
“It’s dangerous work,” said Yazmin Vazquez, who works at a hotel in downtown Chicago. “These customers think they can use us for anything they want, because we don’t have the power that they have or the money that they have.”
Anthony Roman, a consultant based on New York’s Long Island who spent 30 years working security for hotels, said he knows of dozens of incidents involving female room attendants, from drunken propositions to rape.
“They’re not an infrequent occurrence,” he said.
Hotels try to make sure housekeepers are not alone for their whole shift, Roman said, but “if you have a sexual predator by nature, all bets are off.”
At the luxury hotel in Toronto where Andria Babbington worked for 17 years, housekeepers especially hated doing “turndown” service, which involves preparing beds for the night.
Some men would put money on the pillow, ask for sexual favors and tell the women they could take the money when they left, Babbington said.
Others took a more circuitous route to the same end. They would inquire about a housekeeper’s home country and how many family members they were supporting. Then came some sympathetic-sounding questions about how much the hotel paid them, followed by an offer of money for sex.
One guest bugged Babbington for days about having a threesome with his wife. She hid her name tag whenever she cleaned his room. If a housekeeper reacted angrily, the guest would find some reason to raise a stink, she said.
“When they complained, the management would send a fruit basket up to their room and offer them a discount on their next stay,” Babbington said. “It became the norm, and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
Now a union organizer, the 45-year-old Babbington said she hears similar stories from workers at other hotels.
Rico, a 38-year-old housekeeper at a hotel in Irvine, Calif., said she was cleaning a bathroom in 2009 when a guest entered and asked her to change his sheets. She did, then went to get her cleaning supplies out of the bathroom.
When she came out he was lying naked on the bed, watching her and touching himself, she said.