LA hotel workers fear catching COVID-19. Stories from room attendants and front desk workers


LA County hotels closed to all non-essential guests in March but they reopened fully in June.

While that might be an economic generator for hotels and the city, thousands of hotel workers face similar risks as nurses, grocery store workers, and restaurant staff

That includes workers like Carmen Vega, a room attendant at the Westin Bonaventure. She’s a 36-year-veteran of the hotel industry. 

She says that her job has gotten significantly harder during the pandemic. Staff at the Bonaventure are not cleaning rooms daily. And yet, it now takes double the time to clean them due to the extra amount of towels, trash and linens. 

Vega’s also constantly stressed over contracting the coronavirus. As a cancer survivor, she is afraid that if she does get sick, the virus will wreak havoc on her body. 

But she says she has no other choice but to step through the doors of her hotel everyday. Vega is the only person in her house working right now, and her family is relying on her job to help keep them afloat.

Kurt Petersen, the co-president of Unite Here Local 11, says 90% of its workers are currently unemployed, and those who do have jobs are mostly people of color who are risking their health. 

“Our workers are mostly immigrant workers: people of color who are service workers [and] need a job. For them to sacrifice their health for mainly wealthy white guests, [it’s] not fair,” he says. “It’s exactly what we shouldn’t be doing in this recovery. We should be making sure that everybody, guests, employees, are protected. And right now, we don’t see that.”

Following the reopening of hotels, Local 11 surveyed more than 2200 employees there, asking how they felt about going back to work. Seventy five percent of workers reported they were worried they were being forced to go back to work too soon, while 83% reported they were worried their employers would cut corners and risk employee safety. 

Some hotels have safety measures in place, such as requiring guests to wear masks at all times. But those measures often depend on guests following the rules. 

Some workers, like Sarah, a front desk attendant at a hotel in West LA, are anxious about whether guests will follow the rules. KCRW isn’t sharing her last name or hotel because she’s afraid of losing her job for sharing her work experiences. 

Sarah is in contact with guests daily, and she must now check guests’ temperatures and monitor mask wear. 

She says some guests don’t wear masks on-site, including at the pool, which is close to her desk. 

“It's kind of that mystery … kind of like ‘The Twilight Zone.’ You don't really know or see it, but there's a danger there,” Sarah says.

She notes that if people want to visit the hotel, they need to follow the rules. 

“If you want to come out and come into my house where I need to be, be mindful … and be respectful of the people who are there. Because just like you who may be working at home, we don't have that liberty to work from home,” Sarah says.