UNITE HERE Local 1 Rings In a New Day for Chicago Hotel Workers As City’s Landmark “Hands Off Pants On” Law Takes Full Effect
For Immediate Release
City officials and labor leaders join Chicago hotel workers to mark the day by which Chicago hotels must provide panic buttons to hotel housekeepers who work alone to help protect from sexual harassment and assault.
CHICAGO, IL – Today, dozens of Chicago hotel workers, city officials and labor leaders gathered to celebrate the date that Chicago’s “Hands Off Pants On” law takes full effect. The law to help protect Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault by guests was championed by UNITE HERE Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor and requires Chicago hotels to provide all hotel housekeepers who work alone with panic buttons. This new innovative city policy places Chicago at the forefront of a roiling national conversation about sexual harassment.
“Everyone who works in Chicago deserves safe, secure and empowering professional environments in which to do their jobs,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Those who have been willing to speak out about their experiences, and the countless others who have suffered in silence, deserve not just our respect, but our sustained efforts to prevent, prohibit and punish harassment whenever and wherever it occurs. This ordinance makes it clear that sexual harassment is not just inexcusable and inappropriate, it is illegal.”
The event kicked off with remarks from Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, Alderman Michelle Harris of Chicago’s 8th Ward, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, and Secretary-Treasurer Don V. Villar of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
“Women have led the movement for justice and change from the hospitality industry to Springfield to Hollywood. Today shows clear action and sends a message across Chicago, and our country, to all women in the hospitality industry that they’re not alone and that we stand with them,” said City Clerk Valencia.
Alongside the women hospitality workers of UNITE HERE Local 1 who led the campaign for this innovative safety policy, attendees chimed bells and musical triangles to “ring in” a new day for Chicago women and honor all those who have broken the silence around sexual harassment. The Selah Youth Choir of Saint Sabina’s Catholic Church, led by director Sam Williams and producer Plu Harmon, gave a special performance to mark the historic day. Large-scale artwork to promote awareness about the panic button legislation was unveiled in advance of installation in bus shelters around downtown Chicago. (See artwork here: www.handsoffpantson.org/art/)
“Today marks a new day for the women working in Chicago hotels. Our City came together to support these women who broke the silence around sexual harassment,” said Karen Kent, President of UNITE HERE Local 1, who began her career as a waitress. “This support will be felt by thousands of hotel workers who receive their panic button today. We want them to know: We hear you. We are with you. You are not alone.”
Said Kimmie, a Chicago hotel housekeeper, “I’m proud that we spoke out together and won protections for women across the city. We deserve to work without fear. This panic button makes me feel safer. Knowing we have the support of my union and the City means I won’t be afraid to speak out if something happens.”
UNITE HERE Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor spearheaded the “Hands Off Pants On” campaign and legislative initiative long before the #MeToo movement caught hold. In 2016, a team of six women from UNITE HERE Local 1 surveyed nearly 500 Chicagoland hospitality workers and found that 58% of hotel workers surveyed had been sexually harassed by a guest and 49% of hotel housekeepers surveyed said a guest had exposed themselves, flashed them, or answered the door naked. The survey found that women working as hotel housekeepers are particularly vulnerable because they often work alone and are isolated in the confines of a guest room. The survey found that 96% of hotel housekeepers surveyed said they would feel safer if they had a panic button.
In response, the Chicago Federation of Labor and the UNITE HERE Local 1 hospitality workers, along with lead sponsor Alderman Michelle Harris, advocated for the “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance. The ordinance requires Chicago hotels to provide panic buttons to all hotel workers who clean, restock, or take inventory alone in guest rooms and rest rooms, protects hotel workers from retaliation when they report sexual violence by guests, and requires hotels to implement anti-sexual harassment policies.
“In many instances these young ladies were afraid to report the unwelcomed advances for fear of not being believed, and subsequently fired,” said Alderman Harris. “If they couldn’t escape the room they had no way of seeking help. With the panic buttons, that is no longer the case.”
The ordinance was unanimously approved by the Chicago City Council in October 2017, just as news of allegations surrounding Mr. Weinstein in Hollywood began to surface. The new law, which takes full effect on July 1, 2018 will ensure that thousands of Chicago hotel housekeepers will have a panic button and be able to call for help immediate, on-site help if they are sexually harassed or are in danger.
“I applaud our sisters and brothers at Local 1 for fighting the good fight, fighting for each other, for defending each other, and transforming the work place,” said Secretary-Treasurer Villar of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
UNITE HERE Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor launched the “Hands Off Pants On” campaign in October 2016 with a groundbreaking survey and video featuring male union leaders. Now, Chicago’s panic button legislation is poised to become a national model, as similar efforts gain momentum across the country. Sacramento County passed panic button legislation mirroring Chicago in February 2018. In January 2018, a bill was introduced in the California General Assembly that would mandate panic buttons for hotel workers statewide. Voters in Long Beach, CA may see the question of panic buttons for hotel housekeepers on the ballot the November 2018. Seattle passed panic button legislation in November 2016, while hotel workers unions in New York and Washington DC lead the way years ago, implementing panic buttons in area hotels through collective bargaining agreements.
UNITE HERE Local 1 represents over 15,000 hospitality and food service workers in the City of Chicago and surrounding area.