Hotel executives became environmental activists 30 years ago when they realized they could help save the planet by spending less on detergent, hot water, and especially the people working in the laundry room. That’s when we began finding notices with Jimi Hendrix fonts and smiling blue and green whales and dolphins, inviting us to reuse towels and sheets, even though it meant the mammals paid the least in hotels would end up being the ones who were taking a bath.
COVID put even more hotel employees out of work. Few if any were getting sick cleaning hotel rooms. But even after pandemic restrictions were lifted and people hit the road again, driving room prices to record levels, customers got used to hearing that those rooms would be cleaned on request, or twice a week, or every other day. Striking housekeeping workers say they never got their hours back after COVID and are having more and more trouble making a living.
So come on, America. Indulge yourself. Go ahead and act privileged. When you check in, request daily room cleaning and fresh towels and sheets. Don’t get me wrong. I’d use the same towel until it got up walked out of the room by itself. But digitization is killing millions of blue collar jobs a year. Hotels were absolutely right that it would help alleviate climate change to do less laundry. It’s a moral tradeoff for sure. As long as people who need to feed their families are stacking towels in a bathroom and putting fresh sheets on a bed, Motel 6 doesn’t have to burn energy by leaving the light on for me. But I want to see a housekeeper’s smiling face seven days a week.
And don’t forget that hefty tip when you check out. After BBQ tonight with Kathy Hannigan O’Connor and the Bovee family in La Mesa, the server handed me his mobile moneychanger and watched as I made my tip choice. Lots of journalism lately about that moment in our common lives. We might never see our housekeeper. So imagine them. Family at home while they work. Saving for their Christmas shopping already, and it’s August. Walking the picket line in the hot sun, or scrambling to get enough hours, because Marriott is desperately worried about whales and dolphins.