Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Maid to Order

Today's Chicago Tribune has a front-page article here about the issues underlying House Bill 3485, which I sponsored this past session and which was recently signed into law by Gov. Blagojevich. The bill requires hotels in Cook County to provide room attendants who work a seven hour day with the incredibly extravagant benefits of...two 15 minute breaks, a 30 minute meal break, and (drumroll please) clean drinking water.

Essentially, the issue is that by virtue of increased room amenities, the room attendants have much more work to do in the same amount of time. The increased load, with insufficient rest, is resulting in increased injuries and exhaustion to the employees.

The opposition from the hotel lobby was so strong, you would have thought that I was trying to mandate $1 rooms on weekends.

Now I am a big believer in the concept that you cannot be pro-job without being pro-business. But I am also a big believer in the concept of human decency. This workforce, predominantly female, overwhelmingly minority, is as important to our tourism industry as Millenium Park or Navy Pier. They are pretty much the invisible front line in our battle to provide an enjoyable experience in your visit anyplace. I don't care how good the attractions are, if people have a crappy hotel experience, it ruins their trip.

I repeatedly told the hotels lobbyists and managers that I was willing to work with them, and not once did they come up with any compromise. Period. Because the problem is mostly one with large chains, on my own, I narrowed the scope of the bill from statewide to just Cook County. And while they kept saying that this was a naked effort to circumvent collective bargaining between HERE Local 1 (who represents the workers) and the industry, they never addressed the fact that most of the hotels in Cook County are non-union and therefore not even covered by the collective bargaining agreement (which already provides for one 15 minute break anyway).

The House battle was spirited with the bill ironically stalling in the Democrat-controlled Labor committee by virtue of the lack of support from a 'progressive' downstate Rep. After committee passage, the lead opponent of the measure was a minority Chicago Rep. who has literally hundreds of Local 1 members in his district, but instead sided with a handful of hotel operators.

It got even more tense in the Senate, where at the end of Session, the bill fell just short of the votes needed for passage. President Jones stepped up (and then some) in order to get the needed votes and the bill went to the Governor.

Now I sympathize with the plight of the hotel industry post-9/11. But as my pal Brad the Hotel Baron has told me, there are big bucks in hotels these days. Surely, giving these women (mothers, wives, etc.) a chance to rest won't stand in the way of progress. Score one for the little guy.


At August 23, 2005 at 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you Rep. Fritchey. I'm a business owner, and a Republican, but I quickly learned that treating your employees well is one of the best business moves you can make. In time, I bet the hotel owners will come to realize that you helped them, not hurt them.

At August 23, 2005 at 9:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sponsoring this new law, Mr. Fritchey. Maybe I'm naive and new to labor practices, but how was it possible that this type of provision didn't exist before? That is, it seems so common sense that wouldn't the Union have ensured this protection sooner?

At August 23, 2005 at 10:00 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

As I said, most hotels are non-union and as such, the employees don't have the benefits of negotiating strength that comes with membership. I sincerely understand businesses needing to run efficiently, but this seems like such a simple provision that actually benefits all involved parties. Rested workers=happy workers=more productive workers=happy employers.

At August 23, 2005 at 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unions suck.

At August 23, 2005 at 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an intelligent post for you. He/she must be against all those stupid things like workplace safety, child labor laws, weekends, etc.

At August 23, 2005 at 10:53 AM, Blogger Bill said...

anon 10:11
Thanks for your input, Ron Gidwitz!

At August 23, 2005 at 8:48 PM, Blogger DownLeft said...

Thanks for standing up to the pressure!

At August 24, 2005 at 8:34 AM, Blogger Amy Allen said...

Hats off, Rep. Fritchey.


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