In an era of #MeToo, hotel workers union eyes panic buttons for - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

In an era of #MeToo, hotel workers union eyes panic buttons for housekeepers

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Gemma Weinstein was 25 years old, a relatively recent immigrant from the Philippines and a Honolulu hotel housekeeper when she was sexually harassed by two hotel guests.

"It happened to me one day. When I knock the door and guests let me in and they are both naked," she said.

For years, she kept quiet fearing for her job.

"It scared me and I went outside and I feel shame and I blame myself," she said.

But 27 years later, Weinstein is now the president of the hotel workers union, Local 5, and felt empowered by the #MeToo movement to speak out.

She's also pushing for panic buttons for hotel housekeepers. The devices range from either an inexpensive audio alarm to one that can summon help.

Local 5 says its housekeepers may carry pagers or walkie talkies, but typically cellphones are not allowed so communication is limited. 

Weinstein wants hotels to supply all union housekeepers with the devices as part of a new contract, which expires in June.

The union says there are roughly 3,000 housekeepers in Hawaii. Most are female immigrants.

"Workers are telling me that when they are working at night that the housekeeping are working alone and I think it's important to have that (panic buttons) to prevent them from being harassed," she said.

Khara Jabola-Carolus, co-organizer of Monday's night's #MeToo Hawaii at the YWCA, the first MeToo event in Hawaii, said it's time for change.

"It needs to be time up for sexual harassment in Hawaii not just in white collar professional spaces so we are leaving that out on a national level," she said. "At the Hawaii level, that should be the defining conversation, the women who are the most vulnerable."

Union workers in Las Vegas are also proposing panic buttons for their housekeepers. It's already been implemented in four other mainland cities, including Seattle. California is also looking at legislation that would mandate panic buttons for housekeepers.

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