1. Home
  2. Written Testimony of Kasey Nalls

Written Testimony of Kasey Nalls

Good morning. My name is Kasey Nalls. I am a member of UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago's hospitality workers union. Thank you Acting Chair Lipnic, Commissioner Feldblum, and members of the Task Force for holding this meeting and for inviting me into this conversation.

Our union, UNITE HERE Local 1, represents over 15,000 hospitality workers in Chicago hotels, airports, restaurants, school cafeterias, stadiums, convention centers like McCormick Place and Navy Pier, and casinos in Northwest Indiana. I'm proud to be here today to speak to you about the "Hands Off Pants On" campaign to fight sexual harassment in the hospitality industry. I have worked in the casino industry for 13 years as a cocktail server. I know first-hand what it is like to experience sexual harassment at work. It is critical that we help break the silence surrounding this issue and push for real solutions.

My union UNITE HERE Local 1 and Chicago Federation of Labor spearheaded an initiative to pass the "Hands Off Pants On" ordinance to help protect Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault by guests. The unanimous passage by the Chicago City Council of the "Hands Off Pants On" ordinance in October 2017 marked an incredible milestone in our campaign. We appreciated the opportunity to work with the city government to craft a law that would work for the City of Chicago and for Chicago hotel workers.

The "Hands Off Pants On" campaign began nearly two years before this watershed #MeToo moment. In 2016, UNITE HERE Local 1 decided that as a union, majority of women, women of color and immigrants, we needed to better understand how sexual harassment impacts our members. I was a part of the 6 woman team that conducted a groundbreaking survey of nearly 500 women working in Chicagoland hotels and casinos.

What we heard during our survey program was disturbing and enraging. While women's individual stories were shocking, the widespread nature of the harassment really took us aback.

We found that among hotel workers, 58% of women surveyed had been sexually harassed by a guest. These experiences ran the gamut-from being verbally harassed, propositioned for sexual favors, to being touched or groped.

For housekeepers, the most common experience of harassment was guests exposing themselves. Nearly half of the hotel housekeepers surveyed said guests had exposed themselves, flashed them or answered the door naked.

As horrified as we were to hear that, things sometimes went beyond men exposing themselves to the women who cleaned their rooms. Stories came out during the survey about guests masturbating in front of women hotel workers.

Women reported that these experiences of harassment impacted their sense of security. Among hotel workers surveyed who had been harassed by a guest, 56% said they did not feel safe returning to work.

One conversation I'll never forget: a housekeeper said one time a guest returned to the room she was cleaning. When she went to collect towels from the bathroom, she found him standing, completely naked. He was blocking her path to the door. She ended up scrambling over both beds to get to the exit. She said now whenever she hears footsteps outside the room she's cleaning, her body automatically tenses up, her muscles contracting in fear and she scurries to the door to check where the sound is coming from. This is one example of the lasting impact of and experience of sexual harassment and abuse. We also surveyed women working in casinos, as cocktail servers, bartenders, servers, and public areas cleaners. Casinos can be particularly toxic for women: 77% of the women we talked to said they had been harassed by a guest.

Verbal harassment is the most prevalent type of harassment for casino workers, including unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or questions to or about them. Some women said this verbal harassment happened so often, they couldn't count the individual instances- it was a near daily occurrence, sometimes happening multiple times on a shift.

Casino workers we talked to also had experienced physical harassment and abuse. 65% of casino cocktail servers surveyed said a guest had grabbed, groped, patted, or kissed them, or a guest had tried to touch them in an unwelcome way.

One young woman, in her first few weeks on the job as a cocktail server, described being on the floor and approaching a male guest with the vodka he ordered. He had just won big and as he reached for his drink on her tray, he grabbed her breast with his other hand. She said she was so shocked, she just walked away. She went and sat alone and cried. She didn't report it. She was new to the job and afraid to speak up.

We also found that casino workers were more likely than other hospitality workers surveyed to have been cornered by a guest.

Women also reported being followed by guests. Sometimes this was from floor to floor in the casino, to her car after her shift, and in some extremely frightening cases, to her home. Across industries, it can be very difficult for women to come forward about harassment they experience. Only 1/3 of hospitality workers surveyed told their manager or supervisor when a guest harassed them.

For those who said they never or only sometimes report harassment, we asked the reason why they didn't come forward:

43% of hotel workers said they knew someone who reported sexual harassment and nothing changed

24% of casino workers said they thought there was nothing they or anyone else could do about it

We saw these staggering statistics and knew we had to act. On October 11, 2016, we convened the "Hands Off Pants On" panel discussion about workplace sexual harassment, moderated by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke. It was at that event that President Jorge Ramirez of the Chicago Federation of Labor first screened the video featuring CFL union leaders, (all men) bringing awareness to the issue. If you don't mind, I would like to show the video now. Please know that the men in the video had not seen the stories they read out loud prior to being filmed. [Show video.]

President Jorge Ramirez and the other labor leaders lent their voices in such a powerful way, helping drive for the "Hands Off Pants On" ordinance to better protect Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault.

With the leadership of President Jorge Ramirez and President Karen Kent of UNITE HERE Local 1, we advocated for the "Hands Off Pants On" ordinance to help protect Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault by guests. The ordinance ensures that all hotel workers who work alone in guest rooms and restrooms will be equipped with a panic button by July 1, 2018. This is so important for the hotel housekeepers. These women often work alone, isolated in the intimate environment of a bedroom. The panic button is a portable, wireless device that can be quickly activated to summon immediate help from hotel security. It's a way that hotel housekeepers can call for help in the moment they feel unsafe.

The Chicago ordinance also requires hotels to establish a written anti-sexual harassment policy that specifically addresses sexual harassment by guests. Hotels must allow hotel workers to stop work and leave the immediate area if they feel they are being sexually harassed, provide the hotel worker paid time off to file a police report if they chose to, provide the hotel worker a temporary work assignment away from the offending guest (if that guest is permitted to stay). And perhaps most importantly, the ordinance protects all hotel workers from retaliation when we come forward with complaints about guest harassment or avail themselves of any of the rights under the ordinance.

I am proud of what we have accomplished in Chicago. Passing the "Hands Off Pants On" ordinance is a powerful, much needed message to women in hospitality that we are being seen and heard. Strong enforcement of this ordinance is critical. UNITE HERE Local 1 is committed to ensuring that all Chicago hotel workers know their rights under the "Hands Off Pants On" ordinance and feel empowered to avail themselves of these rights. We have created a "Know Your Rights" card and will continue to distribute them to hotel workers across the city. It is our priority to ensure that this ordinance is not just words on a page, but that it lives, breathes and helps change the culture of the hospitality industry for working women. Since the anti-sexual harassment policy went in to effect in January 2018, we've observed a chipping away at culture that permeates the hospitality industry that the "guest is always right." Our union shop stewards provide key support to their co-workers in the process of reporting and availing themselves of the rights under the ordinance. The feedback we've heard is that the validation, support, and the feeling that "I'm are not alone" has been some of the most impactful results of the campaign. I believe it is that sense of community and support that will help hotel workers feel empowered to use the panic button when they feel unsafe and to exercise their rights under the ordinance. I have hope that together we can transform the culture in the hospitality industry, so that all women, all workers, are treated with the respect and dignity we deserve.

Thank you.