“One Job Should Be Enough” is the focus of an exhibit at City College of San Francisco

Hotel Workers on Strike demanding better conditions. Photo by David Bacon

For weary travelers especially now during holiday time, that complimentary mint on the pillow of an elegantly made bed at a luxury hotel is a welcome site. Yet few will often have a second thought to thank the hotel worker who took the time to add those little comforts to the five-star experience.

The life of hotel workers are the focus of photo journalist David Bacon’s exhibit entitled “One Job Should Be Enough.” It opens this evening with a reception and book signing at the Front Page Gallery on the campus of City College of San Francisco.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association there are roughly 505,611 hotel rooms in California. This estimate is most likely higher since the AHLA gathered this info more than four years ago.

Yet for those that examine labor and employment information like SF State University’s Labor and Employment Studies Program or U.C. Berkeley’s Labor Center, the stats are more than numbers on a grid.

The info gathered and examined looks into the lives of thousands of people. According to labor union tallies, 48 percent of the hospitality workers are Asian/Pacific Islanders, 33 percent are Hispanic, 16 percent are White, and 5 percent are Black – (not of Hispanic origin).

This is something that is of great concern to professors in the field of labor and employment studies, like Carol Zabin, PhD at the UC Berkeley.

When this reporter told her about the exhibit opening Friday she noted that “The hotel workforce is divided into a large number of specialized job classifications. By far the largest of these is the room cleaner classification, which makes up nearly one quarter of the hospitality/hotel workforce.” Utilizing measures such as the ‘Self-Sufficiency Standard’ for San Francisco County, Zabin and her colleagues discern a very uneven and unfair situation for hotel workers; specifically the room cleaners.

This type of work is tedious, stressful and over time can cause physical strain. Have you ever changed the linens on one of those fancy luxurious ‘pillow-top’ full to queen-size beds? It takes a bit of time, simply for one bed. But for a room cleaner, even if teaming up with a fellow worker, who let’s say must make up at least over a dozen such beds on one hotel floor, it can be exhausting. Plus they must also clean each room entirely and do so quickly in time for a new guest’s arrival.

Zabin also pointed out that… “hotel workers’ hours are subject to a high degree of variability due to the fluctuating nature of the industry.” Less than one-third of those employed work full-time. And for those that do work full time, the rising cost of living in the San Francisco area makes it increasingly difficult to provide for a family.

“Our examination of San Francisco hotel employment data, notes Zabin shows that workers in this industry face two significant challenges in providing adequately for themselves and their families.

First, despite what may appear to be relatively high wages earned by non-tipped workers in the unionized hotel industry, these wages often do not provide sufficient income to compensate for the high cost of living in San Francisco, even for those workers who work full-time.”

And, second… thus, even workers whose wages are at a full-time rate that would be adequate to reach economic self-sufficiency, often they struggle to support their families because they cannot obtain a forty-hour work week.”

This is especially distressing because often these hotel workers eager to work full-time are the sole-providers for their children/dependents. “One Job Should Be Enough” is the slogan hotel workers are galvanizing under as their unions at present seek to obtain better contracts and working conditions.

Co-sponsored by the CCSF Department of Journalism and the Labor Studies Department, David Bacon’s photo exhibit is on display at Front Page Gallery thru Dec. 20. Reception and book-signing will be from 6:00 to 9:00 PM this Friday, Nov. 22. The Front Page Gallery on campus is in Bungalow 615 – just below the football field.

For more information, call Juan Gonzales, CCSF School of Journalism Dept. Chair at 415-239-3446.

Original photos in exhibit by David Bacon 2019