Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.
Stefano Lunardi/Getty

When the pandemic hit, thousands of Hilton workers were furloughed. Here are two of their stories.

Brenda Holland, a room attendant at a DoubleTree by Hilton

In March 2020 we were laid off due to COVID-19. We were home for about 15 months. I couldn’t take a new job because I have a 9-year-old son, so I was homeschooling him during that time. We just got back to work at the hotel.

My doctor prescribed Naproxen maybe a week or two after going back to work, because the work that I’m doing now, I’ve never done before. I have never worked so much in my life where my whole body aches and I have to actually be on medication. When I’d told her about it, she prescribed something stronger—because I was just doing Advil—so now I take Naproxen in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening.

I don’t really see any sympathy from the managers. I’m not gonna lie. I’ve seen more trying to micromanage us, making sure clean rooms that are usually gonna take an hour are done within 30 minutes so that the turnover is faster, and we’re getting guests in there as quickly as possible. I don’t see a lot of sympathy. They can pretend all they want but we can see right through them because I know that all they’re trying to do is make money. I guess I understand because they’re also just taking orders from someone.

It comes from the top, right? The CEO of Hilton, Chris. And then it trickles down to our local managers. He has the power to change all of this. I think he’s more concerned about making more money—as though $55 million is not enough. That’s how much he made last year. And I didn’t know where I was gonna get money to pay my rent or feed my son. I lost my benefits. I couldn’t afford my husband’s medication that’s $1,000 if we’re not insured.

But this is the man who’s making $55 million a year and is also trying to take work away from us, the little people, people who need it the most.

We definitely have told the local general manager but I don’t see a lot of care or empathy for us, the people doing the backbreaking work, so we feel like everything we’re talking about is falling on deaf ears. And because he probably doesn’t have much of a say. He’s also taking orders. He can’t tell us much unless he gets it from the top.

All they say is that we’re understaffed, which we are. A lot of people have quit because of backbreaking work. Nobody wants to work anymore. I know you’ve heard about this supposed labor shortage but it’s not because we don’t want to come back to work. It’s because of the extra workload that we have to go through now. It’s ridiculous. 

The way it works is we have stayovers and checkouts, half and half. A stayover, you can just remake the bed, touch up the bathroom, and take out the garbage, and you know you’re out within 15 minutes. It saves time and it’s not so heavy on your body. You’re basically retouching that room every day, preparing it for checkout in the next two or three days so it’s not as difficult when you clean at checkout.

But if you’re cleaning a room at checkout that hasn’t been cleaned for five days—imagine a family of four staying there, the garbage alone. I’ve been taking out three or four bags of garbage every day from one room. You have to make both beds. The bathroom is disgusting. And we’re using more chemicals that are toxic to us to get the bathtub nice and clean. 

When staffing is proper, it’s about 15 rooms per day, split between stayovers and checkouts, so it balances out. It’s not as bad. Sometimes we have business travelers, who are usually there for a day, so that’s not bad, and their rooms are not dirty.

I’m cleaning 17 rooms a day now. It’s crazy. I am laughing to keep from crying.

I lay in bed all day when I’m not working. My son turns 10 next week. He wants to spend time with me, but I’m too tired because of the workload. I can’t even cook for my family. That’s what we’re going through right now as room attendants. And that’s why there is a shortage of workers—because of the changes. It’s a lot.

Honestly, I didn’t want to stay because it is a lot for me. But I’m also a mother, a wife. I have a family. I can’t just leave the job without a plan. It provides for my son and my family. Especially health care—it’s very important to me, having insurance, that safety net. I’m going back to school in September, so maybe I’ll try something completely different. 

I just want hotel customers, when they stay at the Hilton or any other hotel for that matter, to request daily room cleaning because that helps us with the workload. And that also helps us make our hours. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of hours, but it’s also summertime. I don’t know what’s going to happen when fall comes, whether we’re going to be working 40 hours a week. A lot of us are going to lose hours, lose health insurance and all the benefits that come with working there. I really just want them to understand that requesting daily room cleaning will help us retain our jobs and our hours and be able to feed our families. Also to be able to have that kind of work-life balance. We’re able to come home and still enjoy our families. —As told to AJ Vicens

Meybel Landaverde, a host at Urban Tavern, a restaurant at San Francisco’s Union Square Hilton

We didn’t work the whole pandemic last year because the hotel was completely closed. The hotel just opened recently in May. So they’ve called people from the housekeeping department and the janitor and the night department. They don’t call any servers, any hostesses. They say they are going to reopen the restaurant. I don’t know when. But the thing is, I really feel so sad, scared. I have to pay bills, and I have to support my nieces with money for food and things like that. Here in San Francisco, everything is so expensive.

I’m a little bit angry because the owner of my hotel says they want to switch the restaurants to grab-and-go. So my position is threatened. They don’t give me any information about it, but the owner says he really wants to do that. That makes me feel very scared because I have been working there for 17 years and I think we have good benefits, and I don’t want to lose it.

I’m upset with the company’s CEO because they really threaten my work specifically. They want to switch to grab-and-go and there is no option for me to work there. I feel really scared and mad because I don’t think he’s seen our challenges right now to pay for things. He doesn’t have that challenge in his life. And the CEO made $55 million last year. I don’t think it’s fair.

They don’t honor that we’re so loyal. But for me it’s really hard—I want to see that he changes his mind, and I think it’s good to tell them that if he can do the right thing, it’s going to help us. —As told to Andrea Guzman

This story is part of our Bad Bosses project, a reported collection of accounts from workers about their terrible bosses and the system that creates them. You can read more about the entire project and find every story here. Annotations—highlighted throughout—can be clicked for further context and comment from other parties. Got your own bad boss story? Send us an email.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2023 demands.

payment methods


Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2023 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.