MANHATTAN (CN) – Dozens of hotel maids rallied in front of Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Monday for the arraignment of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty in a brief hearing Monday morning to charges that he attempted to rape a maid at the Sofitel Hotel where he was a guest.
The maid said she opened the door to Strauss-Kahn’s room while he was naked, and the former IMF chief allegedly closed the door to prevent her from leaving. He then allegedly grabbed her chest, tried to pull down her pantyhose and twice forced his penis into her mouth to try to initiate oral sex, according to his indictment.
A local branch of the New York Hotel Trades Council organized its members to jeer Strauss-Kahn outside the courthouse. The dozens of hotel maids who belong to the union’s Local 6, chanted “shame on you!” minutes after Strauss-Kahn professed his innocence.
Nearly all hotel housekeepers are women, and most are immigrants and people of color, according to fact sheet by Unite Here, a merger of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees.
Just as statistics predicted, the protesters dressed in hotel uniforms were almost exclusively women, and several approached for interview spoke only basic English.
The union’s survey also reported that maids have a 40 percent higher injury rate than other service workers: Two-thirds rely on painkillers to get through their daily quotas, and more than 90 percent had work-related pain.
The fact sheet says nothing about abuse by hotel customers.
Unite Here spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel explained that the union is still gathering information at this stage.
“Unfortunately, there is very little information about the extent of this problem in the hotel industry, though more information and stories are surfacing as a result of the alleged incident in New York,” Strassel told Courthouse News.
Though one union members at the protest, Ismenia Lapaz, said, “Abuse is everywhere,” a spokesman for the rally’s organizers offered only anecdotal evidence about the abuse.
“The statistics are not getting reported because nobody’s keeping track,” Local 6 spokesman Ryan Hanson said.
“Room attendants are scared,” he added. “I hear a lot of stories.”
Hanson was vague as to what action the union takes when it hears such stories.
Representatives from the New York union and Unite Here likewise did not respond to multiple requests for comment about this process.
The dearth of statistics is all the more striking since two hotel maids’ allegations of attempted rape brought down two powerful, international figures in the past month.
Less than two weeks after Strauss-Kahn was released from prison on bail, Egyptian businessman Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar was arrested on similar allegations.
University of Colorado Law School professor Aya Gruber told Courthouse News that the case against Strauss-Kahn marks a “success story for the Sofitel” since hotel management did not dismiss the allegations of a Guinean immigrant.
Hotels must do more on the preventative end, Gruber said, urging them to embrace security cameras, alert systems and better training.
“I think if we started thinking that way instead of the salacious aspects of the criminal trial, probably we could prevent them,” Gruber said.
The Unite Here spokeswoman said that security systems for hotel maids are currently much less sophisticated.
“Anecdotally, I’ve heard widespread concern by housekeepers about security, and many take informal precautions to prevent attacks,” Strassel said. “Things as simple as leaving a door open while they’re cleaning, even if it goes against hotel policy to do so, or using the heavy cart they use to carry around supplies to block the door. Drastic cuts in hotel staffing nationwide in recent years, including hotel security staff, have exacerbated security concerns.”
Hanson, the Local 6 spokesman, said hotel management are receptive to electronic security measures, but “it’s not something you can implement overnight.”
Facing the spotlight of the Strauss-Kahn case, hotel management will be under more pressure to implement these changes, Hanson added.
“I think going forward that management is going to be a lot more supportive,” Hanson said.
Local 6, meanwhile, is doing what it can to publicize maids’ concerns.
After Strauss-Kahn left the courthouse, organizers of the rally ushered the hotel maids into a bus rented for the occasion. Though the alleged perpetrator was already long gone, one of the maids smiled, still giddy from the demonstration, and cheered “shame” one more time before boarding.
Strauss-Kahn will appear in court again on June 18.