The hotel calls it the "make a Green Choice" program. But room attendants, who say the initiative is doing little more than messing with their livelihoods, call it the Fake Green program.[rssbreak]
The Sheraton Centre Hotel across from City Hall is giving guests the option of hanging a card on their door declining housekeeping during their stay to help "conserve natural resources." In return, they get either a $5 gift voucher or redeemable hotel points, not to mention the satisfaction of helping make the world a greener place.
Sounds reasonable enough. Hotel guests have long had the choice of forgoing new towels and linens. They can now also refuse vacuuming, dusting, tidying up, emptying garbage cans and replacing soaps and glassware.
And, yes, this could potentially save on cleaning supplies. But employees organized in Local 75 of Unite Here see things differently. They say that what gains are made usually go out the window when housekeeping staff are confronted with a room that hasn't been cleaned for days. This necessitates more vacuuming and the use of even more cleaning materials.
So where does the conservation come from?
Sheraton's parent company in New York, Starwood, did not return several calls, and the marketing manager at the Sheraton Centre declined to be interviewed, instead sending NOW a company statement.
According to Starwood, more than 200,000 guests at 140 hotels participated in the program during its first six months, which saved 8.2 million gallons of water, 38,000 kilowatts of electricity and 11,000 gallons of chemicals.
"Starwood believes the most sustainable sustainability initiatives are those that are economically viable," the company says, "so there are indeed operational efficiencies driven by this program."
But Unite Here spokesperson Valerie Dugale says, "As far as we can tell, there's no change in the environmental footprint over the old program. This ‘choice' program simply gets rid of housekeepers as a way to save the hotel money."
Dugale calls it "one of the most deceptive programs ever foisted on hotel guests wanting to make an environmental difference."
Brigida, a 19-?year staffer at the Sheraton who prefers not to use her last name, maintains that "if the program had to do with the environment, we would agree 100 per cent." Unfortunately, she says, it doesn't.
After a few days of not being attended to, she says, accumulated food waste, dust and odour become major problems.
Attendants are expected to clean 16 rooms a day, but working on one that's been left for three days "takes at least an hour, an hour and a half," she says.
The Sheraton Centre has approximately 650 employees, about 160 of whom are room attendants. There have been no layoffs, but some low-?seniority employees have had their hours significantly scaled back.
The union says that before the new initiative, the employer summoned room attendants to work according to the number of guests. But now the hotel counts the number of Green Choice cards put out by guests and cuts the corresponding number of workers for the following day. The union estimates that about 70 cards are hung on doors per night.
This means increased uncertainty. Workers can't easily seek additional part-time work because they're still scheduled for a certain number of shifts per week at the hotel, regardless of whether they get them or not. They only find out on the day itself if they're not needed.
And once they go below a certain number of hours, their employment status gets downgraded to part-?time. In order to qualify for full-?time benefits, employees have to average 120 hours of work per month.
David Martin, director of Ryerson's School of Hospitality and Tourism, says it's ultimately up to the guest to choose. As far as cleaning an occupied room every day, he says, "I couldn't see a hotel wanting to do that unless the guest requests it." He adds, however, "You can't run a business and have good-quality staff by cutting their schedule moments before a shift begins."
In a show of union solidarity, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) had all the cards removed from the rooms of its 800 delegates during its convention at the Sheraton Centre in March.