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Marriott’s ‘Envelope Please’ plan asks travelers to tip housekeepers

The most recent Marriott hotel room amenity has turned out to be a surprisingly controversial one.

It’s an envelope — empty and ready to hold that tip for your housekeeper.

Marriott has partnered with Maria Shriver’s A Woman’s Nation (awomansnation.org) empowerment organization on “The Envelope Please,” an initiative to encourage guests to tip their housekeepers. The company is placing the special envelopes in more than 160,000 guest rooms at hotels throughout North America as a way to express gratitude for the housekeepers’ work for guests in particular and the industry in general.

Some travelers and commentators have called the move a good idea. Some label it a misguided effort. Others say it’s an assault on travelers’ sensibilities.

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Whatever your opinion, one thing is clear: Marriott’s campaign has already served a purpose. It has brought attention to a group of hospitality workers who often are off some travelers’ radar.

That empty envelope, in fact, contained important and disheartening news.

Housekeepers make up the largest work segment in the hotel industry: About 400,000 of the industry’s 1.8 million jobs are housekeeping-related, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Except for those occasional intrusive “Housekeeping” announcements at your hotel room door or the muffled wail of a vacuum somewhere down the hall, most of us never see, hear or think about hotel cleaning people.

Most housekeeping workers are women, a disproportionate number of them women of color and immigrants. The median yearly salary of $19,780 is far below any other job in hospitality, as well as what housekeepers in other industries, such as hospitals ($22,090), are paid, according to 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

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Some gains have been made in working conditions. Housekeepers do have a union in states where it is allowed. Unite Here (unitehere.org) represents more than 100,000 hotel workers in about 900 hotels across the United States and Canada. When there is a union contract, hotel workers make more than $20 an hour, compared with the national median wage of $9.51 an hour in 2013, and that includes benefits.

Further, housekeepers regularly are exposed to all sorts of health risks. They have the highest injury rates in the hospitality industry: The housekeepers’ union found that the cleaning staff’s rate of injury was almost twice that of other hotel workers, 10.4 per 100 workers, compared with 5.6 per 100 for non-housekeepers, according to an analysis of data extracted from Occupational Safety and Health Administration-mandated records of employee injuries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as part of its National Occupational Research Agenda, recently identified four categories of hazards that affect hotel housekeepers: Ergonomic hazards that result in musculoskeletal injuries were the biggest contributor to injury. That was followed by slips and falls, exposure to chemicals that can lead to respiratory problems and infectious diseases that lurk in biological wastes as well as blood-borne pathogens.

Don’t believe it? Consider just the beds for a moment. Mattresses have more than doubled in weight and thickness in the last 10 years. The average mattress weighs at least 115 pounds, and at high-end hotels, they may weigh more than 250. On average, hotel housekeepers service from 15 to 20 guest rooms each day, making up 25 beds. In a typical shift, they’ll lift mattresses 150 to 200 times.

Yet, experts say, many guests don’t tip housekeepers because they are “back of house” workers and don’t deal with the public.

Seventy percent of guests don’t tip their housekeeper, but the confusion about tipping is understandable. Unlike waitressing, housekeeping isn’t generally considered a “tipped occupation,” so workers have to be paid at least minimum wage.

On the other hand, tipping experts and business travel consultants generally agree that housekeepers are among the hotel workers you need to tip. The American Hotel & Lodging Assn.'s “Gratuity Guide” recommends leaving the housekeeper from $1 to $5 per day, per person.

Marriott’s envelope just may be an investment in awareness.

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travel@latimes.com


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