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Hotel staffing company faced wage complaints

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / September 26, 2009

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The toilets are still being scrubbed and the sheets changed at the three Hyatt hotels in the Boston area, but the workers performing these tasks are making half as much money to maintain up to twice as many rooms as the staff housekeepers the hotel fired.

The dismissal of 98 Boston area housekeepers on Aug. 31 ignited public outcry and prompted boycotts against Hyatt, which said yesterday that it would offer the fired housekeepers jobs through a staffing agency or worker retraining options. It also thrust into the spotlight the Atlanta firm that the Hyatt hired to replace the housekeepers, Hospitality Staffing Solutions, a company that has faced several complaints of wage violations in recent years.

Hospitality Staffing Solutions has faced lawsuits in Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, including a 2009 class-action suit on behalf of more than 100 janitors and housekeepers at two Pittsburgh Hyatts. And Audrey Richardson, a lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services, said there are six wage-related complaints against the company pending with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, which doesn’t comment on open cases.

President Rick Holliday addressed the complaints against the company, which has about 4,800 employees in 450 hotels around the country, saying that “administrative mistakes’’ might have been made, but the firm treats workers with dignity and respect.

“You don’t run a business for 18 years and have the amount of employees that we have in the cities we have and not make a mistake,’’ said Holliday, who would only say he had “quite a few’’ employees in the Boston area.

Sonia Lopez, a 32-year-old former Hospitality Staffing Solutions worker, started cleaning 16 rooms a day for $8 an hour at the Cambridge Hyatt in March. A week after the Hyatt housekeepers were fired, she said, she was told to clean 25 rooms a day, adding at least an hour and a half to her workday without additional pay.

Before long, Lopez’s back was bothering her. On Sept. 13, after Lopez told her supervisor she couldn’t clean her last four rooms, she said, she was fired on the spot.

“They think that we’re slaves,’’ said Lopez, who spoke in Spanish through a translator. She is one of the six former Hospitality Staffing Solutions workers who have filed complaints with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

Other cleaning firms, such as J&R Cleaning Services of Cambridge and Clean Tech Professional Cleaning Services of Hanover, have faced wage-related complaints, and Richardson said there are nine such complaints pending against Illinois-based Capital Cleaning, and others that were resolved. There are so many accusations of wage violations that the attorney general’s office is investigating the entire cleaning industry.

“The workers that have come forward are just the tip of the iceberg,’’ said Richardson, who added that cleaning firms are often repeat violators.

According to a new study, two-thirds of more than 4,000 low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.

And 39 percent of the workers in the study, which was financed by the Ford, Joyce, Haynes, and Russell Sage foundations, were illegal immigrants.

Holliday said all Hospitality Staffing Solutions workers are legally authorized to work. But three Boston-area workers told the Globe on Monday that they were undocumented to work in the United States.

Six current and former workers interviewed also said they were never offered benefits, although Holliday said the company provides Aetna health insurance.

The Hyatt housekeepers made about $15 an hour and had benefits, including a 401(k) plan. The staff workers also had to clean 16 to 18 rooms daily, while Hospitality Staffing Solutions employees interviewed said they sometimes are required to clean nearly double that.

Hyatt declined to comment for this story.

Holliday said room quotas have gone up as hotels adopt green programs, which may stipulate that the sheets are not automatically changed if a guest stays more than one night.

He said it should take housekeepers only 10 or 15 minutes to clean these “stay-over’’ rooms, while workers are typically allowed 30 minutes to clean other rooms.

“A lot of what we’re proud of is that we’ve given a lot of people a start,’’ said Holliday, adding that the firm promotes entry-level workers. “It’s the American dream.’’

Maria Cramer, Todd Wallack, and Erin Ailworth of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.

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