E-MAIL MICHAEL  PRINT  2007 COLUMNS  ARCHIVES  SEARCH ARCHIVES
THE POLITCS OF DIRTY TOILETS
By Michael Matthews
November 8, 2007 -- Here's a thought: Depending on what happens in next year's elections, there may be huge changes in our immigration policies. As many as 12 million illegal immigrants could be wending their way home and an American version of the Berlin Wall could be built along our southern border to deter them from coming back.

What does this mean to you, dear traveler? A lot more than you might think.

It has been years since I had to clean a guestroom. In fact, the last time was during a strike in 1976 at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. All "management" was called in and, for 10 days, I became a maid.

It was a horrible, back-breaking job. I was cleaning 14 rooms a day: New sheets, scrubbing toilets, dusting, vacuuming, picking up soiled god-knows-what. Then I listened to constant complaints from guests who, seeking a discount on their bills, complained that their room wasn't clean enough. As my wife can confirm, I've had an aversion to cleaning anything ever since.

A housekeeping job in a hotel is so bad that the role of a maid can only be filled with low-paid and, more often as not illegal, labor. The hotel industry in the United States is dependent on the labor of immigrants, legal or illegal. They fill jobs that nobody in their right mind would want.

During my recent stint in California as the general manager of one of the nation's top resorts, I ran a staff of 175 employees. Only eight were from the United States.

In our kitchens, we had an Executive Chef--and Chef and the rest of the staff were from south of the border. One hundred percent of our housekeeping staff and all of our gardeners came from south of the border. Our chief engineer hailed from California, but his 27 staffers were from Mexico, mostly from around Jalisco.

Of the 164 employees from south of the border, each one had passed the hiring test. I had to approve each new hire after they had been through our personnel department. All the U.S. government asks is the completion of a form called an I-9. On it, you record the identification submitted by the employee and verified by the employer (social security number, driver's license, whatever).

You understand, of course, that identification acceptable to the U.S. government can be purchased for a few bucks on certain days of the week on certain street corners in most American cities. And no one seems to care if Social Security is spelled Sosial Security, which it was on one future employee's card. These new "green cards" even come with a magnetic strip as well as fingerprints and photos of the applicant. Put one of these brilliant phonies alongside my legal green card and you can't tell the real from the fake.

All of this chicanery is produced in less than 24 hours and costs about $100. Don't have $100? They will loan it to you and you pay them with your first pay check. They know you'll have a job within 24 hours and they'll even tell you who is hiring. Got a job without ID? Your new employer will probably point you in the right direction to get a suitable set of identification papers.

I have even seen the presentation of 100 percent genuine documents. They just happened to belong to a person who had recently returned home. The returning employee simply sold his or her legal ID to another immigrant. Should the original employee return to the United States, he or she just applies for new documentation, claiming the old ID was lost.

New federal laws (currently being resisted in California) say an employer must terminate an employee when the employer is advised by the government that the employee's social security number doesn't match. Oh, yes. Give me a break. If an employee is terminated from the Marriott, he or she just walks across the street and starts again at the Hilton. Or the Sheraton. Or the Holiday Inn.

I'm a legal immigrant to the United States. I know we need controls on illegal immigration. But I don't believe that new legislation need be as draconian as some U.S. legislators are proposing.

If some of the more restrictive immigration measures become law, my friends, consider what your life on the road will be like. You'll still pay outrageous rates at your favorite hotel. But you'll be making your own bed and maybe scrubbing your own toilet, too.

It'll be just like being at home. I don't wish it on anybody.
ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.