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A win for #MeToo and labor unions: Major hotel brands to offer ‘panic buttons’ for workers

Hospitality union Unite Here has been fighting for the electronic safety devices for years.

A Marriott housekeeper gets her panic button safety device.
A Marriott housekeeper gets her panic button safety device.Read moreMarriott

Two months after thousands of Marriott workers across the country took to the streets to call for, among other things, greater workplace safety protections, the hotel company announced Thursday it will provide "panic button" electronic devices to its on-site workers in its 5,000 hotels across the U.S. and Canada.

Marriott is one of a group of major U.S. hotel brands, including the Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group, and Wyndham, who announced Thursday afternoon that they would offer the devices. The Philadelphia Marriott Downtown is the biggest hotel in the city, with 23 floors spanning a full block.

The call for panic buttons, which alert security if a worker feels unsafe, and more housekeeper safety protections started in 2011, when a hotel housekeeper in New York accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund, of sexual assault. Since then, hotel workers union Unite Here has lobbied for the devices, and several cities, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, have passed laws requiring the devices. (The workers at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown are currently trying to unionize with Unite Here.)

In May, a group of Marriott housekeepers, including Edith Santos, a longtime housekeeper at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, spoke at the company's annual stakeholders meeting, called on their employer to take action on workplace sexual harassment. Santos, 72, said she and her coworkers were constantly in fear of being harassed or attacked by guests.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News in July, the national president of Unite Here, D. Taylor, said the #MeToo movement made the call for panic buttons more urgent.

Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said the same to hospitality industry outlet Skift, referring to the "increased awareness of 'sexual harassment claims across a broad range of industries and, frankly, geographies'" as a reason to have a consistent approach around safety across hotel companies.