We’ve Got Trouble, My Friends

 I work for an Extended Stay hotel chain, but only for a few more weeks until I move to Oklahoma to teach The Children. 

Not too long ago, if someone had even looked at me funny, my regional manager would have kicked their asses out on the street, and driven forty-five minutes from Sun Prairie to do it personally.  But funds are tight, and “Corporate” is clamping down on everything, including employee safety. 

There is a man who has been staying with us for a month or so.  He is very creepy.  He says sexually suggestive things and in the last few weeks has taken to screaming “why don’t you just die” and “I’m going to kill her” in the elevator where he thinks we can’t hear him.  Among other things.  That’s only the mega short-form of the story.

I should point out to you that, from five pm to six am, there is only one person (one female person) at a time working in the entire establishment.  I’m there from three to eleven, by myself entirely.  Still, my regular manager told us not to worry, because the door is locked at night, and if one of the more dangerous guests tries to jump over the counter he’ll probably fall, giving us enough time to run to safety. 

What the heck is that?  In what era are we? 

So I took it to my boss’ boss and explained it to him thoroughly.  That was Saturday, and as of today, Tuesday, all that has happened is the regional manager “filed a complaint with legal,” who will eventually “take care of it.”  Off the record, my regional manager told me that “take care of it” will probably translate to “ask him to leave on his own terms”… so that we don’t have to evict him and return his money. 

He also said there is another guest at our sister hotel who is worse, and my complaint is therefore second priority, but that I should leave it to him from now on because he’s doing all he can.   Well see, as much as I, up to this point, have always liked and respected the regional manager, I’m not just going to sit by and wait for bureaucracy to do something while I and my fellow employees are being threatened.  I feel guilty about it, and I am terrified I am slandering someone and making a big deal out of nothing, but after a month of being frightened, I gave up and called the non-emergency number of the Madison PD. 

I explained the tricky situation to the dispatcher, who was very kind.  I wasn’t sure what to do, as nothing violent has occurred really, and most of the creepy things had happened to another employee who said she was “too afraid to do anything about it.”   Still, it turns out the law will protect you to the best of their ability even before you’ve become somebody’s victim.  They sent a couple of officers over without me even asking, and they wanted to act immediately.  They told me directly that I have the right to get out of any unsafe situation as soon as I feel threatened.  They wanted to file a complaint, talk to the man, and even take him to prison if I felt unsafe being left alone with him for the rest of the evening. 

I filed the complaint but declined further action.  I don’t want to be left alone with this man once the police have gone away.  Tomorrow, however, I am investing in some pepper spray.

By the way, the guest they’re having problems with next door, the one my regional manager said is our first priority, is a schizophrenic off her meds; this we have verified with her family.  She walks around the hotel screaming in the middle of the night and answers the door buck naked.  She’s priority numero uno for eviction, because she owes us money.  Meanwhile, we have another guest here who just got back from a week in prison, after waking up the whole hotel at two am while beating his wife.  He’s back, and we’re left alone to deal with him.  The hotel is going to let him stay because, again, evicting him would cost us money.

What puzzles the employees is that we’re overbooked these days, and we have guests clamoring to get in, who would pay us more money.  It doesn’t make any logical sense to me.  I feel afraid and helpless all at once, and I am not the only employee who feels that way.   Should we wait until one of us is harmed physically?  Sexual harassment is a daily occurrence in this workplace, but should we also add violence to it?   I have the drive to do something, if I can, because I have another job and opportunities, and no one is relying on me.  But what about everyone else, those who don’t have the luxury of being a pain in the ass of the corporation?

That’s the bigger picture here, folks.  Extended stay hotels are full of  businessmen and students and traveling nurses and international employees as well as people who don’t have good enough credit to get an apartment or recently evicted families.  Some of these itinerants are ill, and they have fallen through the cracks in society.  They are alone and have mental issues and nowhere to go, no one to care for them.  I feel compassion for them, I pity them, but I also am not trained to handle them or protect myself from them. 

We hotel employees are constantly filling the role of parent, social worker, accountant, and doctor.  Corporations are filling in for psychotherapists.  It’s not safe and it’s not right.  The hotel industry, and in particular the long-term hotel industry, is packed to the gills these days.  There are more people searching for long-term hotel stays than ever before in this country, because of displacement and poverty and job searching all over the country.  I have encountered so many sad, lonely, terrifying insane people trying to make it on their own and failing around here.  Causing harm to themselves and others in the process. 

There was the young girl whose father left her with us, who would obsessively touch everything in the lobby, and who couldn’t clean up after herself, and who deficated all over the room to such an extent that we had to call in a toxic waste management company to clean it.

One woman with paranoid tendencies used to call down to the desk and tell us we were all liars and trying to cheat her.  She wouldn’t let us in the room without screaming.  Another man lost a pair of shoes and was convinced that I had stolen them.

The man I am currently afraid of wears the same clothing every day and screams and talks to himself, sometimes punching himself in the head.  Other people just find a little, unimportant thing and fixate on it.  Though they were normal a minute ago, suddenly they are absolutely crazy.  They scream and scream and scream at me, and why?  Who isn’t listening to them?  What are they really trying to say?

Right now, in the present situation, there is not much I can do when it comes to the corporation, management, the law, or society, but I certainly can (and will) take steps to protect myself and my fellow employees.

Wisconsin Statute 101.11 …no employer shall fail or neglect to do every other thing reasonably necessary to protect the life, health, safety or welfare of employees.

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~ by Rachael on May 3, 2011.

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