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Sexual Harassment Bills Proposed for Hotels

June 8, 2011

Since a room attendant was allegedly attacked three weeks ago by a prominent guest at the Sofitel Hotel, two pieces of legislation have been proposed to protect New York hotel workers against such crimes.

The latest bill would require hotels to provide sexual harassment training to staff and management—and protect employees who speak up from retaliation.

New York state Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and state Sen. Betty Little (R-Clinton) introduced the legislation, which would also provide a workers bill of rights.

“Recent events have demonstrated that there is a clear need for sexual harassment awareness and prevention training for hotel employees,” Rosenthal said, in a written statement.

The ex-leader of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was indicted, accused of sexually assaulting one of the hotel’s housekeepers on May 16. He denies the charges.

A similar incident last week involving a room attendant and another VIP guest who allegedly attacked her at the Pierre Hotel, reinforced the need for such protections, said a spokesman for the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council, the union that represents 30,000 hotel workers in the city.

Unlike managers at the Sofitel, which reported the incident involving Strauss-Kahn to the police within an hour, Pierre Hotel employees did not inform the police of a potential crime until the next day.

“Many hotel workers are women who are new to the country and speak limited English, making them particularly vulnerable,” Rosenthal noted in her statement.

The Sofitel incident also sparked a proposed bill—introduced by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) in May—that would require hotels and motels to provide panic buttons to their staff.

Both the Sofitel and Pierre hotels reportedly handed out panic buttons to workers who have requested it. The buttons alert hotel security to a potential problem.

The safety issue is being discussed at the upper echelon of hotel management.

Christopher Nasetta, chief executive of Hilton Worldwide, said at an industry conference on June 6, “We will try to dig in deeper to get behind the real risks and come up with a real solution” if we find there is a need for one.

He added that Hilton has no “systemic safety issues” affecting its employees. Nasetta spoke at the New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in Manhattan.

Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of New York University’s school of hospitality and sports management, said he expects unions across the country to fight for panic buttons for their members.

Indeed, Peter Ward who heads up the city’s largest hotel union said he will push the issue during contract negotiations with the Hotel Association of New York City next year.  

Filed by Lisa Fickenscher of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

 

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