Disneyland Hotel Workers announced Thursday that they plan to engage in a water-only fast starting on Feb. 9, 2010.
Workers say they are fasting because of concerns about health and safety at work. While more than 2,000 hotel workers have been without the protection of a contract, workload and managerial pressure has increased and staffing levels have decreased. Workers have also experienced health problems including heart attack, stroke and musculoskeletal injuries at work.
"We’re fighting for our health," said Narciso Guevara, houseman at the Grand Californian Hotel, who plans to fast. "We need better, safer conditions on the job, healthcare we can afford, and even more importantly, we need the company to respect us."
During the fast, 8 Disneyland hotel workers, two LAX food service employees, who are also UniteHere Local 11 members, and one adult son of a Disneyland Hotel worker will refrain from eating. Fasters will consume only water. For the duration of the fast, participants will remain, 24-hours a day, in front of the Grand Californian Hotel, sleeping in tents on the sidewalk and surrounded by a large shrine to injured workers.
Part of the shrine will pay tribute to Grand Californian housekeeper Rosario Casas, who is out of work on disability after suffering a heart attack on the job in October. Casas survived. Casas said her doctor said the heart attack was due to stress.
Maria Navarro, a housekeeper at the Grand Californian, who injured herself just three days after Disney remodeled its Grand Californian Hotel and introduced new, longer sheets, bigger pillows and heavier duvet covers, said she is fasting to bring attention to the injuries she and several of her co-workers have suffered.
"The managers put a lot of pressure on us," Navarro said. "And since the changes were implemented at the Grand Californian, things have gotten worse. There are many people in my department who are hurt, but work through the pain because they are afraid of losing their jobs. So much pressure creates an unsafe place. We must make it stop."
Remodeled rooms at the three resort hotels and the new villas at the Grand California Hotel have created more work for housekeepers. Longer sheets, thicker mattresses, duvet covers, bigger pillows and longer pillowcases have created more work for housekeepers to complete in the same amount of time. From the strain of the extra work and managerial pressure, some workers have experienced physical injuries including heart attacks, since the work has increased.
"I’m fasting to stand up for my co-workers who have been injured at work," said Kristi Richards, a cashier in the Grand Californian Hotel. "I worked with and knew Musa Sharaf, a cook in the Storytellers Restaurant, who had a heart attack and died while at work. No one knows for sure what caused his heart attack, but what we do know is that we are under a lot of stress, especially cooks like Musa."
Musa Sharaf died on the job in January of 2009 after suffering a heart attack at work. His wife, Basema Sharaf, was present Thursday for the fast announcement and told reporters that her husband would complain of a lot of stress at work, especially in the last year of his life after cutbacks in staffing. She said he would arrive at work one hour early everyday, and work unpaid, just to be able to serve customers and get his work done.
"He never took his morning breaks because the work he had to do was beyond his capacity," said Basema Sharaf. "He came home extremely tired from work everyday and for years, my husband often said they needed more staff in the kitchen."
Throughout the fast, community and religious leaders, unions, musicians, students and residents will call on Disney to address the health and safety issues at the hotels to by participating in daily actions, rallies and concerts.
For more information on daily events and profiles of the fasters, please visit www.disneyisunfaithful.org/work-shouldnt-hurt.