The Guardian makes an interesting comment upon the the head of the IMF’s alleged rape of his hotel’s chamber maid, ”…it is likely that Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim might not have felt confident enough to pursue the issue with either her supervisors or law enforcement agencies, if she had not been protected by a union contract.” The housekeepers at the Sofitel are members of the New York Hotel Workers’ Union. There is job security.
It is illegal for an employer to fire a worker for reporting a sexual assault. However, it is completely legal for an employer to fire a worker who reports a sexual assault for having been late to work last Tuesday or any other minor transgression. Since employers know the law, they don’t ever say that they are firing a worker for reporting a sexual assault. They might fire workers who report sexual assaults for other on-the-job failings, real or invented. All the countries of western Europe afford workers some measure of employment protection, where employers must give a reason for firing workers. Workers can contest their dismissal if they think the reason is not valid, unlike the United States where there is no recourse.
Imagine the situation of the hotel worker had she not been protected by a union contract. She is a young immigrant mother who needs this job to support her family. According to reports, she likely did not know Strauss-Kahn’s identity at the time she reported the assault, but she undoubtedly understood that the person staying in the $3,000-a-night suite was a wealthy and important person. In these circumstances, how likely would it be that she would make an issue of a sexual assault to her supervisors? Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage ( Housekeepers perform the most physically demanding work necessary to operate a luxury hotel. Assigned 10 to 14 rooms a day on average, they strip beds, dump sheets down laundry chutes, remake beds, scrub bathroom floors, clean tubs and toilets, empty trash, polish mirrors, clean glasses, vacuum carpets.) It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case? Housekeepers with the main hotel workers union, Unite Here, said that housekeepers were often too embarrassed or scared to report incidents to management or the police. Sometimes they fear that management, often embracing the motto “the customer is always right,” will believe the customer over the housekeeper, the guest’s opinion of the situation holds quite a bit of weight, and that the worker may end up getting fired. Union membership affords some protection and reassurance