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Hotel Housekeeper Says She Was Suspended After Activism [Updated]

Morena Hernandez is a hotel worker in Los Angeles who was active in protests for women's and workers' rights. Now she's been mysteriously suspended — and she could be fired.

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Hernandez has worked at Hyatt's Andaz hotel in West Hollywood for 15 years. On March 19, she was suspended — meaning she could be about to lose her job. The reason the hotel gave had something to do with improper room cleaning procedure, but she says she did nothing wrong. Her version of events:

That day, I noticed the carpet in the room was dirty, so I requested a shampoo – a procedure that requires another employee and extra time. I then went into the bathroom and noticed the guest had been sick because he left quite a mess in the toilet. I sprayed down the toilet, and while the cleaner penetrated, I went on to start cleaning the next room. I marked the room as “unfinished” in the hotel’s electronic tracking system.

Her statement is a reminder of the unpleasant things hotel workers have to deal with — but did the Andaz really suspend her for improper handling of vomit? Or did they object to her activism?

Hernandez (left) leafletting in front of the Andaz.

Hernandez (left) leafletting in front of the Andaz.

Leigh Shelton, a representative for hotel workers' union UNITE HERE Local 11, says Hernandez has long been a top leader for workers' rights. She's spoken to community groups and women's groups on behalf of the union, and met with clergy and elected officials. She's testified before the National Labor Relations Board, and she participated in a weeklong strike last fall protesting excessive housekeeper workloads.

Then, on March 8, she was active in several protests in honor of International Women's Day. UNITE HERE Community Coordinator Annemarie Strassel told me that especially since Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged assault of hotel worker Nafissatou Diallo last year, the union has been highlighting the ways in which hotel workers' issues are also women's issues. Yesterday, the union participated in a tweetchat against sexual assault and domestic violence, tweeting this plea from a worker: “Guests should treat us, the housekeepers, the same way they treat their mothers or sisters or any woman they value.” So given Hernandez's previous activism, a protest on International Women's Day was a natural fit. She passed out leaflets in front of the Andaz in support of Marta and Lorena Reyes, two sisters who were fired from the Hyatt in Santa Clara, CA after complaining about sexual harassment.

And she was photographed that same day protesting against working conditions — a photo that was prominently displayed on UNITE HERE Local 11's Facebook page.

Hernandez protesting on International Women's Day.

Hernandez protesting on International Women's Day.

In a statement to BuzzFeed Shift, Hernandez said, "I am a strong woman. I have spoken publically about the abuses women in housekeeping suffer at the Hyatt." It's not clear if that's why the hotel suspended her, but the timing looks suspicious — especially since Hernandez had apparently been cleaning at the hotel without incident for 15 years. It's not clear yet whether Andaz plans to go through with firing her. For her part, Hernandez is considering all possible options right now, including legal action. "I’m not afraid to speak up about the pain housekeeping work has caused my body," she said, "and I’m going to continue to fight."

Update: A rep from the Andaz sent me this statement:

It is absolutely false that any of our associates would be punished for speaking their minds. What is true is that we encourage all our associates to be full participants in the community and in expressing concerns they have about working here. In fact, we hold staff meetings daily to provide the forum to address any and all issues.

Although I’m limited in addressing publicly any personnel matter, I can say that, like any smart business, we adhere to a standard of work performance that ensures that our guests see the Andaz West Hollywood as a great place to stay.

This really is about UniteHere’s national agenda of growth by using falsehoods and boycotts that purposefully harm the very associates and communities they say they serve. Our associates and our community know better.