Service Industry Worker Speaks On Sexual Harassment
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In a few short months, the #MeToo movement has reached prominent figures in film, television, journalism and politics. Now the question is, will it reach less visible workplaces? Juana Melara hopes so. She's a hotel housekeeper in Long Beach, Calif., and she's been vocal about the need to better protect women in professions like hers. When we spoke, she told me about one of the many disturbing encounters she's had on the job. It's a story that may not be appropriate for young ears.
JUANA MELARA: I was scrubbing the bathtub on my knees. And I suddenly felt like, you know, something you feel when somebody's watching you. And I turned. And there he was inside that room, in front of the bathroom door, just looking at me. And it scared me. It scared me. I jumped and said, oh, my God. You scared me. What are you doing inside this room? Could you please get out? This is not your room. I know it's not your room. And I made sure that he walk away.
So I finished the bathroom. I went for my break. And when I finished my break I went back to the same room to finish the rest of that room - making the bed, dusting, vacuuming. So I came to the cart to reach something that I needed to complete my room, and there he was, this same guy. I think he was hiding in some point in the hallway. He exposed all his private parts.
MARTIN: He pulled his private parts out?
MELARA: Yes. He was - he walked toward me and he started asking some questions. So I was shaking. I was shaking - so nervous, so scared. As he was asking me the questions I was screaming. I was answering the question, but I was screaming, trying to see if I - any guests from any room could come out because of the noise.
MARTIN: And what happened? Did he finally go away or - what happened after that?
MELARA: He did went away. The minute he turned, I locked myself inside the room and called my supervisor.
MARTIN: But if you do complain, what happens?
MELARA: Nothing happened. I thought that maybe because of that they were going to hire security to make rounds in the floors while we working, but it didn't happen.
MARTIN: Of all of the housekeepers you know, of all of the ladies that you have worked with over the years, how many of them would you say have a story like yours where somebody has pulled out their private parts or somebody's tried to touch you or somebody who's said things to you that they shouldn't say, asking you to do things that are not part of your job? How many of the ladies that you work with would you say have a story like yours?
MELARA: Maybe I'll say 7 out of 10, they have some kind of experience like that. We can't continue like this. Things like this can't continue - be happening.
MARTIN: What kinds of things do you think would make things better for people who do the kind of work that you do?
MELARA: It could help us a lot if more hotels have unions because the workloads are less where the workplace has unions. The workload is a big part of this because you always in such a rush trying to finish your job and do a good job that you don't pay attention to what goes around - because that time that this man went inside my room, I didn't hear at all where he was because I was so into what I was doing.
MARTIN: You're saying the workload is so heavy that you don't pay attention to what's going on around you...
MELARA: Yes. Yes.
MARTIN: ...Because you're just running from room to room? Anything else...
MARTIN: ...You think would make a difference?
MELARA: The panic button's one thing. That law was already passed in another state.
MARTIN: So you were saying you think a panic button would help. You know, there's already that law in New York. You're saying if - maybe if you could have panic buttons so that you could call somebody if you felt that you were unsafe.
MELARA: Yes. Along with the panic buttons, I think you will - places will let any guest that stay in hotels, let them know that sexual assault is not going to be tolerated in that place.
MARTIN: You know, I mean, know what you're saying because a lot of hotels have this piece of paper when you sign in saying you can't be so loud that you disturb other guests. And you're thinking, you know, what if it said you can't mistreat the people who work here?
MELARA: Yeah. Treat them with respect. We're human beings just like them, too.
MARTIN: One of the reasons that we found you, Mrs. Melara, is that you, along with other women, were recognized as a group as Time magazine's Person of the Year. You know, there were movie stars, there was a state senator, a woman who picked strawberries. There are many, many other people. And Time said that you were the silence breakers. And I wondered what it was like for you to be recognized in this way.
MELARA: I mean, it's really all not about - it's not a matter of being in the magazine. It's a matter of getting results in that we get policies that protects the workers in hotels, in hotels and restaurants, because they got the policy that the guest is always right. So no matter the complaint from the guest, it's always your word against their word. So it's hard to make them see that you're telling the truth.
MARTIN: That was Juana Melara. She is a housekeeper who works at a hotel in Southern California. Juana, thanks so much for speaking with us. We really appreciate it.
MELARA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.