New law requires panic buttons for hotel housekeepers

Chicago hotel housekeepers are tired of sexual harassment and indecent exposures by guests.

They are using the scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to highlight a new law requiring panic buttons for hotel employees.

Surveillance video shows a registered sex offender sexually assaulting a female hotel employee in Omaha last March. As he groped her, she managed to remove his ski mask. He was later arrested and pleaded guilty. The victim was working alone after midnight. Hospitality workers in Chicago say they face similar dangers, working alone in large hotels. 

“When they open up the door, that's when they all expose themself. And no one wants to be treated that way,” said hotel housekeeper Claudia.

Claudia -- she didn't want her last name revealed -- has worked in a downtown hotel for 28 years. She joined other housekeepers at city hall for a celebration Tuesday, sharing a cake displaying a photo of Harvey Weinstein. A new city ordinance requires that hotel housekeepers be provided with panic buttons to use when they're being sexually harassed, or face other dangers.

“So they'll be able to push a button if they feel threatened, and that's real important when you work by yourself, and you have to deal with some of the issues that society has kind of swept up under the rug,” said Alderman Michelle Harris.

Advocates of the new law point to a 2016 survey of almost 500 housekeepers. More than half claimed they had been sexually harassed by guests.

“I think it could be more than that. A lot of people who experience sexual harassment can't speak out, so I think it could be more,” said hotel housekeeper Latonia.

RF Technologies of Brookfield Wisconsin says it's producing panic buttons for numerous hotels in Chicago. A company representative says they've been used successfully in New York and Washington D.C., but Chicago's the first city to require them by law. 

“We don’t' want to be afraid when we come to work,” Claudia said.

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