Employees at local hotel complain of inhumane working conditions

LA JOLLA, Calif. - Some employees at a local hotel told Team 10 investigators that they are working under inhumane conditions.

Neli Whatley has worked at a restaurant in the Marriott La Jolla for 13 years, and she told Team 10 ever since HEI Hotels & Resorts took over ownership of the hotel last year, going to work has caused problems to her health.

Whatley said she goes hours without a bathroom break, and told Team 10 she spent two days in the hospital.

"The doctor told me I had a high infection in my kidneys because I couldn't go to the bathroom when I needed to," said Whatley, who also said HEI cut half of the restaurant staff 14 months ago.

Joe Bagby of Unite Here Local 30 said, "It makes money by saving money on labor. They cut staffing, in effect forcing workers to do two or three jobs … it's a hotel-wide issue."

The issue, union organizers said, is hitting hotel housekeepers hard. Team 10 went inside the Marriott with cameras and accessed areas open to any member of the public. While the view from the hallways showed a standard scene, the pace of work was shocking.

Hotel housekeeper Luz Oliveras told Team 10, "They don't care about us. They just care about money."

Oliveras said she suffers from chronic knee pain. She used to check 25 rooms a day, but now checks closer to 100 rooms daily.

"The biggest problem with housekeeping is the repetitive motion, bending, stopping," said Bagby.

Additionally, housekeepers push carts that weigh 50 to 60 pounds.

Team 10 investigated and found at least six other locations where alleged inhumane conditions under HEI are happening, including the Hilton hotels in Mission Valley and Long Beach.

In a statement, HEI representatives told 10News that the workers at the Marriott La Jolla are exaggerating. HEI blames the union for generating "rumors, complaints and negative publicity" and said they have an "open door policy."

Video obtained by Team 10 showed the open door policy in action. After weeks of not being heard, employees stormed the office of the hotel's general manager, but he ended the conversation abruptly.

Ironically, with new health risks emerging for many workers, Team 10 learned HEI also raised health insurance costs.

Whatley and Oliveras said as full-time employees, they only bring home $980 a month. HEI's family plan is almost $500 a month, and both women said they are now uninsured.

"I have kids and I can't take them to the doctor when they get sick," said Whatley.

Whatley said she is scared of losing her job after speaking out to Team 10, but vowed to keep fighting for her daughter to teach her a life lesson.

"We are humans, not animals," said Whatley.

Workers at the Marriott La Jolla and the Hilton in Mission Valley are hoping to unionize so they can ask for their rights without the risk of being fired.

Some employees told Team 10 five housekeepers at the Hilton hotel in Long Beach were fired earlier this year after complaining about unfair working conditions.

When Team 10 asked HEI about the Long Beach firings, they said their employees should not fear retribution for speaking out.

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