CHICAGO: ‘Hands off’ anti-harassment rules check into hotels

Celebrating what they called a ‘cultural shift’ for female workers’ rights, union activists and city officials recently marked Chicago’s implementation of an ordinance requiring hotels to provide panic buttons for employees to report harassment.

Hotels are now required to supply portable panic buttons for workers who “clean, inventory, inspect or re-stock supplies” alone in guest rooms or restrooms, allowing them to send out alerts when they feel threatened.

Sarah Lyons, a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 1, which championed the ‘Hands Off, Pants On’ campaign, said the button is “not just a physical device, but a symbol” of city support and the fight against sexual harassment.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying the workers “deserve not just our respect, but our sustained efforts to prevent, prohibit and punish harassment whenever and wherever it occurs”.

The legislation followed a ‘Unite Here’ survey in 2016, which found that 58 per cent of 500 workers polled had been sexually harassed by hotel guests. About half the number responded that guests had exposed themselves, flashed them or answered the door naked.

In addition to panic buttons, the legislation requires hotels to have a written, anti-sexual harassment policy, and benefits both union members and non-members. Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia said the victory “is the perfect example of how unions stand up and protect those who often need it the most”.