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Pushing For Protections For Hotel Employees

NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who is proposing a bill to protect hotel employees from sexual harassment.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back in October, Chicago passed a law that requires hotels to provide workers with so-called panic buttons. These are meant to alert security if guests threaten or harass staffers. A survey there found nearly 60 percent of housekeepers and other staff have experienced this, and that caught the attention of Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. She is a commissioner in Miami Beach, Fla., and she recently had her own encounter with sexual misconduct, which, we should warn you, she describes using some explicit language in our conversation.

KRISTEN ROSEN GONZALEZ: And I started to think, wow, if that's the statistic in Chicago, I can't even begin to imagine what the statistic is in Miami Beach where we have this ambiance of, you know, partying and decadence and excess. I'm sure it's pretty high. So I met with our city attorneys, and we're beginning the process of crafting some type of legislation. And we've been looking at the Chicago ordinance, and what it will basically do is give all of the housekeepers across Miami Beach the same rights to a panic button. And that's one way that the hospitality worker can alert the staff that something is wrong.

MARTIN: And would that be the hotel's responsibility? I understand you're just starting to get going with this proposed legislation, but...

GONZALEZ: The hotels would have to provide this service. We don't know what the service would cost. We're expecting that once we begin the discussion, the hospitality association will probably come forward and give us some sort of projection as to what it would cost. But I've spoken informally to a few of our hotel owners on Miami Beach, and they said that they would be fine with installing this type of system. And there's a lot of egregious things that happen. You know, a man is staying in a hotel room, and he says I need some extra towels, and then when the housekeeper walks in, they expose themselves. And I know how horrible that can feel because it happened to me recently, and I felt ashamed, embarrassed, disgusted by the entire situation. I can't imagine this happening to me on a regular basis.

MARTIN: You did go public about your own experience with sexual harassment - this wasn't that long ago - with someone who you considered to be a colleague, a peer. Do you mind sharing more details about how that transpired?

GONZALEZ: I was supporting a candidate here in our local elections in the city of Miami Beach. I had raised money for him. He was well on his way to winning this race. And when we went out for dinner one night, in the car afterward, he pulled out his penis and tried to get me to touch it. And it was horribly embarrassing. At the time, I just told him to put it away, and I kind of filed it in the back of my mind.

But as we were getting closer to the elections, I mentioned to one of my campaign staffers - I said, you know, we're about to get a really bad guy elected. And she said, well, you have to tell the story. And at the time, the thought of going public with this story was horrifying (laughter). I thought the last thing that I would like to be associated with as a commissioner for Miami Beach - and I'm actually a congressional candidate - is another person's genitals.

MARTIN: You mentioned that you're running for a congressional seat in next year's midterm elections that's long been held by Republicans. Do you believe staking your claim on this issue, is that something you believe will help you win over Republican voters?

GONZALEZ: I think that it's not a partisan issue. I'm not really using it as a political tool, although it did garner a lot of publicity. And I was accused, when I came forward, of using this to promote my campaign, and that was not what it was about at all. I kept thinking of my daughter and her friend who had interned at city hall, and I kept thinking, what if my daughter went through an experience like I went through with this man in my car that night? So I really wanted to protect people.

MARTIN: Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez of Miami Beach - she's spearheading a city law that would protect hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault while on the job. Commissioner, thanks so much for your time.

GONZALEZ: Thanks. Thank you for having me.

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