Protect Our Hotel Workers As Hawaii Reopens Tourism - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Phyllis Aira Sheer Raquinio

Phyllis Aira Sheer Raquinio is a current Master of Public Health student specializing in Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. Her interests include sexual health, health education and Filipino health.


With the reopening of tourism and the start of the state’s pre-travel testing program on Oct. 15, many people are returning to work in the hotels, and an influx of tourists from many different areas of the world is beginning to arrive.

Because the tourism industry is the primary source of income for Hawaii, the economy took a huge blow due to the closing of our borders to non-residents. In turn, Hawaii experienced one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, with the largest numbers occurring in tourism.

My 52-year-old mother, who has been working as a housekeeper at a hotel in Kaanapali, Maui, for the past 22 years after immigrating from the Philippines, was one of those people who had to file for unemployment. However, as she prepares to return to work, I worry for her safety.

I consider my mother the head of our household. As a Filipino immigrant, she’s worked hard to ensure our family has a bright future, and I credit her for where we are now. Without her, well, I don’t want to think about it.

The author, second from left, with her mother Marilyn Palting, her sister Cherilyn Mae Palting and her stepfather Frederick Palting.

Ever since she filed for unemployment, our family, like others, has been facing financial struggles. Because our household is covered under her health care insurance from work, we found out last month that our insurer will run out of funds by the end of October, which meant that we’d have to find coverage elsewhere. We applied for Medicaid but were denied twice.

When my mother said, “We just have to hope we don’t get sick,” I knew how vital it was for us to have health care insurance, especially in this time. She was able to find coverage under COBRA, but even then, she longed to get back to work. Of course, it’s not only our family struggling and my mother preparing to return to work. Others are facing this future as well, including relatives and family friends, many of whom are also Filipino.

Filipinos make up a vast proportion of hotel workers in Hawaiʻi, and they also experience the second-worst COVID-19 disparities after Pacific Islanders. They are known to be hardworking and resilient, many times even sacrificing their own health for the well-being and future of their families.

With the reopening of tourism, more Filipinos will be on the frontlines, where they may encounter different people at different times. For housekeepers, that means cleaning after those who occupied the rooms, including the rooms used for isolation.

Housekeepers and other hotel workers are not medical professionals. They’re not trained to diagnose or treat someone who displays symptoms of an illness, nor are they responsible to do so. They also do not have the proper PPE readily available to protect themselves and others, so it is essential that they’re provided with those necessary tools.

Without proper safety measures, they are at risk of bringing home the virus to their families. For Filipinos, that means coming home to multigenerational households, where the virus can further spread in the community.

By reopening tourism without accounting for and preparing for these potential consequences, Hawaii runs the risk of exacerbating COVID disparities and triggering a third wave of cases.

I understand the need to reopen tourism. My mother and other families rely on work for mortgage, bills, health insurance coverage and other financial necessities. However, money does not replace a life.

Even with the pre-travel testing program, people who test negative can contract and transmit the virus at any time. Therefore it is imperative to comply with safety guidelines, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

This past June, hotel workers, including my mother, protested reopening tourism on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island until proper safety measures were implemented, demonstrating the need to ensure worker safety before we fully reopen. Government officials and hotel management must take heed of workers’ concerns, especially the ones working on the frontlines, such as housekeepers. Considering their thoughts and concerns is crucial for everyone’s safety.

So for anyone looking for a getaway or staycation, and for our leaders and hotels looking to boost our economy again, if you come across a hotel worker while they are working, protect them because they have a family waiting for them to come home safely.

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About the Author

Phyllis Aira Sheer Raquinio

Phyllis Aira Sheer Raquinio is a current Master of Public Health student specializing in Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. Her interests include sexual health, health education and Filipino health.


Latest Comments (0)

Enough of this fearmongering, please!How are the hotel workers supposed to get infected from negative tested guests?Didn’t big island test tourists second time and found zero cases?The Clash comes to mind with their ‘please save us, not the whales’:)

Frank_Rizzo · 1 month ago

It's  the classic "Catch 22," (Pun Intended)Go to work and take the health risk of "Catching CV19" or Stay home and spiral into debt and poverty?The Union, Hotels, and Government should have worked together to implement an 0verall Comprehensive plan for the safety of these workers considering this is Hawaii's #1 Industry and the sheer "Human-Density" involved as well as the random and frequent congregation of people in these settings is quite alarming if not a recipe for a 3rd wave of Super Spreaders in the fall."Plan ahead and not Experiment w/our citizens and their Ohanas!"

PSpects · 1 month ago

First of all, I totally agree with this statement - housekeepers are front line workers that do not get enough recognition for what they do.So what was the net effect of the June protests? And what safety precautions were implemented - for hotel workers and tourists - in preparation of the October 15 travel restriction changes?I looked at the UNITE HERE Local 5 website, a quick glance revealed open concerns. My hope is that opposing sides can be open to each other and compromise towards a goal that benefits everyone, namely the hotel workers safety. If this doesn't work, may fellow unions step in and support the cause of Local 5.

73Surfrider · 1 month ago

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