Earlier this year, on July 16, Dennia Palmer, a former employee at JW Marriott Le Merigot Hotel in Santa Monica shared a powerful, heartbreaking story of her personal experience at a hearing of the California Assembly Select Committee on Women in the Workplace: “At the Le Merigot, it was normal to joke about sexual harassment. When one of my male coworkers began to make unwanted advances toward me, I didn’t feel like a manager who jokes about women would take it seriously, and I feared the potential consequences of speaking out.” Unfortunately her story is not singular or unique. The heroic silence-breakers of the #MeToo movement, such as workers Juana Melara, housekeeper at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach, Sandra Pezqueda, former dishwasher at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, and most recently Palo Alto University professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, have given courage to countless workers around the nation to tell their own personal stories of sexual misconduct in the hospitality industry. Stories like these encouraged cities like Chicago and Seattle to pass laws requiring panic buttons for their room attendants.
However, while panic buttons offer some protections, sexual assault is not the only challenge the bodies of women workers endure. Regularly housekeepers are tasked with overly burdensome workloads, and there are few legal protections to prevent this practice.
As the faith community that believes in dignity and justice for all in Santa Monica, we have been regularly meeting with and hearing the stories of hospitality workers in Santa Monica. For years, workers have told us how inhumane workloads, and fear of retaliation when they speak up for themselves, have damaged not only their bodies, but also their spirits.
Since February, a group of us, which includes Santa Monica workers, residents, and clergy, have met regularly to respond directly to the needs of our own Santa Monica workers in the hospitality industry. We are a community of women who came together to listen to and stand with our workers who are advocating for change for themselves and their families.
On Sept 23, as a result of our collective stories and work, we hosted an educational forum called “Stand with Women Against Abuse.” Over 90 Santa Monica residents, including elected officials and members of our boards and commissions, watched as women shared powerful testimony, researchers made policy recommendations, and workers called for the community to stand with them during this season as they ask for a policy to protect them from further abuse.
Today, our workers in Santa Monica are asking us, the Santa Monica community, to support them as they ask the city to protect and empower them by providing them with panic buttons, a humane workload, and a housekeeping training program.
At the hearing, Dennia invited us to action: “As long as we are told that our stories don’t matter when we speak up about sexual assault, this will continue to be the culture in the hospitality industry.” In this moment of our history, we can no longer be silent on the abuses that women in the workplace face. As people of faith, we are called to listen to, and walk with one another in our common fight for the good of all.
On October 23, we will ask our city lawmakers to take action to protect the women who make Santa Monica’s tourism industry thrive. This is our moment to shine, to walk with, and to unwaveringly say, “I stand with women against abuse.” For if one of us suffers, then we all suffer. But likewise, if one of us is liberated, then we are all liberated.
Rev. Rae Chen Huang, Pacific Presbytery, PC(USA)
Rev. Eric Shafer, Mt Olive Lutheran Church
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, Beth Shir Shalom
Rabbi/Cantor Diane Ruse, Cool Shul
Rev. Andre Van Zijl & Rev. Debrah Friedland Van Zijl, All Paths Divinity School, So Cal Parliament of World’s Religions
Rev. Rebecca Benefiel Bijur, Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. Janet McKeithen, Church in Ocean Park
Rev. Dr. Peg Schultz-Akerson, Lutheran Church of the Master
Rev. Sergio Caishpal, Santa Monica Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Rev. Dr. Joanne Leslie, Archdeacon Emeritus, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles
The Rev. Nathan Rugh, St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
& members of the Santa Monica Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice Committee