Hotel union tucks support behind California legislation mandating fitted bedsheets

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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California’s state legislature is considering requiring hotels use fitted sheets.

Senate Bill 432, which requires hotels to use fitted sheets and provide housekeepers with long-handled mops, just passed the state Senate on the coattails of support from hotel workers union Unite Here and is set to go to the state’s House soon.

The union cites a 2009 American Journal of Industrial Medicine study that found hotel workers had a 25 percent higher injury rate than other service workers and said that housekeeping staffers can throw out their backs lifting mattresses too much.

Unite Here spokeswoman Leigh Shelton told TheDC the high injury rate from that study isn’t directly related to bedsheet-changing, but that’s certainly part of it.

“This [workplace injuries for housekeeping staffers] isn’t just necessarily from changing sheets,” Shelton said in a phone interview. “We’ve seen high instances of repetitive motion injury and that comes from the bending and the lifting. That stuff’s been documented by OSHA, it’s been documented by us, by ergonomics experts, by loads of people. This isn’t stuff that we just, like, pulled out of our ass.”

According to the California Hotel and Lodging Association (CHLA), though, the study Unite Here cites is “scientifically unsound” and “biased,” because three of its nine authors work for the union.

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Unite Here even produced a three-minute video, en Espanol, starring a Latina woman housekeeper who explains how and why the non-fitted sheets and lack of long-handled mops wear her down physically and psychologically.

WATCH: Unite Here’s video advocating for California to mandate fitted bedsheets at hotels:

Regardless of what sheets they use to make hotel beds, if housekeepers get hurt on the job, they still qualify for workers’ compensation.

Conservative groups point out that they think California’s political priorities are just a little bit off the reservation. Rick Manning, a California native who used to be the Department of Labor’s Public Affairs chief of staff and who is now the communications director for Americans for Limited Government, told TheDC that this shows California’s politically elite left-wing is in the pocket of the labor unions.

“Once again, California Democratic Party state lawmakers show how out of touch they are as they seek the good will of their labor funders at the expense of both common sense and the consumers pocket books,” Manning said in an email.

Glenn Spencer, a labor policy expert for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks this shows the state government in California has mixed-up priorities.

“They’ve just been told they have to release 30,000 prisoners, they’re on the verge of putting in place card-check organizing for agricultural workers,” Spencer said in a phone interview. “You’ve got these serious kinds of issues, and this is what the legislature, and this is what the legislature decides they have time to deal with?  You know, bedsheets?”

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CHLA estimates the cost for implementing Unite Here’s plans for fitted bed sheet and long-handled mop mandates in hotels statewide is at least $20 million.

“As hospitality and tourism are viewed as one of the industries that can lead California out of this protracted recession, further burdens on large employers as well as family-owned businesses should be very thoughtfully considered,” the CHLA said in an April 2011 guidance on SB 432. “This recovery is fragile.”

Even if Unite Here succeeds in pushing this legislation through California’s legislature and gets Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it, it’s unclear at best whether fitted bedsheets will actually solve the problem the union is trying to solve. Shelton challenges the CHLA’s cost estimates, too, saying they’re an exaggeration.

“I don’t think this bill is going to cost the hotel industry these astronomical figures the hotel lobby is throwing around,” Shelton said. “Let’s see some proof of those numbers.”

Tags : california
Matthew Boyle