Seattle’s growing hotel profits come at worker expense and with public subsidies

April 30, 2012

While Seattle’s downtown hotel sector sets for widely projected growth and profitability, its workforce endures poverty wages, pain and injury from unsustainable management practices. Our Pain, Their Gain: The hidden costs of profitability in Seattle’s downtown hotels reveals how industry practices keep workers in poverty with low wages and inadequate health benefits, requiring public dollars to subsidize their health care costs, their food and housing. This report, just released by Puget Sound Sage, a regional economic policy advocacy center, is available at:

“We found that hotel workers, who are mostly people of color and family breadwinners, not only earn wages at poverty level,” said Howard Greenwich, research director for Puget Sound Sage. “They endure pain and injury at higher rates than almost any other industry—including construction and coal mining. Meanwhile, industry profits are rising rapidly.”

Economic hardships and hazardous conditions endured by hotel employees are disproportionately borne by workers of color and by immigrants. Pain and injury are disproportionately borne by women, who comprise most of the hotel housekeeping workforce. While living paycheck to paycheck, some even qualify for public assistance. Yet, the work is grueling. A typical housekeeper cleans 15 rooms a day, strips over 500 pounds of soiled linen, replacing it with 500 pounds of clean linen, lifting a mattress over 60 times a day.

“I’ve seen people quit hotel jobs because their bodies can’t take the work,” said housekeeper Jian Hua Wu. “And it’s not just hard; it’s dangerous. When workers are forced to go faster and faster, we get hurt.” More worker quotes are available at:

King County Councilmember and Chair of the county’s Board of Public Health, Joe McDermott, calls on elected officials and the privatesector to set the region’s tourism and hospitality industries on the right path. “This report sets forward principles and a framework and we’re going to study these and see if we can’t take the “high road” in hotel and hospitality—a sector that’s set to expand rapidly in the near future,” said McDermott. “A healthy region sustains its families, invests in workers and supports businesses that help create healthy communities,” he said.

Click here to download the report.

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