ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- A union representing housekeeping workers at Atlantic City's casinos says four of the resorts are not complying with a COVID-related requirement that hotel rooms be cleaned daily, and called Wednesday for the state to intervene.
Local 54 of the Unite Here union said state officials need to enforce an order issued in 2020 by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy requiring hotel rooms to be cleaned and sanitized daily. The rule was issued as the casinos reopened after a 3 1/2-month shutdown at the onset of the pandemic.
The union filed a complaint Wednesday with the state Department of Community Affairs accusing Caesars, Harrah's, Tropicana and the Golden Nugget of failing to clean each occupied hotel room each day as required by the order, which the state health department confirmed remains in effect.
The community affairs department said it is responsible for enforcing the daily cleaning requirement, and has the authority to conduct inspections stemming from complaints it receives. It declined further comment, noting it had just received the union's complaint.
“These folks in housekeeping in Atlantic City are just one part of a larger workforce that is systematically overworked and understaffed,” said Bob McDevitt, the union president who is in the midst of talks with the nine Atlantic City casinos for a contract to replace the ones that expired at the end of last month.
The union presented claims by several housekeepers that there are not enough workers to keep up with the demand to clean each room each day. The workers said their employers directed them to clean rooms where guests are checking out as a priority.
Teresa Lopez, a housekeeper at Caesars, said the added workload of cleaning dirtier rooms where trash has accumulated for several days is taking a toll on her health.
“I feel more pain after cleaning these rooms; I have to take pain medicine,” she said at a press conference on the Boardwalk outside the casino, adding she signed the complaint sent to the state.
Bina Vashi, a housekeeper at Hard Rock who did not sign the complaint, added, “Right now we have to work even harder. Those rooms are so dirty, filthy.”
The phenomenon is not limited to Atlantic City. Hospitality industry leaders say the combination of a shortage of housekeeping workers, and the reluctance of some guests to allow hotel workers into their rooms during their stay, has led to the abandonment of a daily room cleaning standard in resorts across the country.
Three of the four casinos listed in the union's complaint (Caesars, Harrah's and Tropicana) are owned by Caesars Entertainment, which is the focus of the union's bargaining efforts, along with MGM Resorts International, which owns the Borgata, which was not accused of inadequate cleaning. Caesars Entertainment declined comment.
The union also said the Golden Nugget posted a sign at its front desk in April advising guests that daily room cleaning was not available “at this time,” but that guests could request fresh linens and towels.
Tom Pohlman, vice president and general manager of the Golden Nugget, said his casino “holds itself to the highest standards, and all rooms are fully cleaned with a very stringent protocol between all new reservations.”
“We advise hotel guests on available and on-demand housekeeping services at check-in,” he said. “Any time a guest requests housekeeping services, we absolutely honor that request.”
He said staffing for Golden Nugget, as is the case with the other casinos, “has been an ongoing issue and there are times where staffing shortages do not allow us to clean all overnight stays. Due to COVID, many guests have requested no cleaning during their stay, which on average is less than two days.”
But Patrick Stewart, executive director of the New Jersey Hotel and Lodging Association, said his members are not experiencing a shortage of housekeeping workers, and that they “adhere to the highest standards for cleanliness and workplace safety, and that includes additional state, local and federal health and safety protocols adopted since the pandemic.”
This story has been corrected to show that one of the quoted housekeepers did not sign the complaint.
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