How About Just Paying Them More?

By Mark Krikorian on September 17, 2014

Maria Shriver is helping Marriott hotels avoid raising the pay for its housekeepers.

Perhaps fearing that the minimum-wage campaign directed at fast-food restaurants will turn its red and fiery eye toward hotels, Marriott has teamed up with Shriver and her group A Woman's Nation, to launch a campaign dubbed "The Envelope Please." It will "put envelopes in hotel rooms to encourage tipping" at Marriott's various brands, including Courtyard, Residence Inn, J.W. Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Renaissance hotels. The hotel chain is even suggesting how much to tip: "Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson says $1 to $5 per night, depending on room rate, with more for a high-priced suite."

If the housekeepers' exertions warrant that money — and I'm sure they do — why doesn't Marriott just raise their pay by $1 to $5 per room per night? The company's press release has the gall to describe "Gratitude Envelopes," as though women making beds and cleaning bathrooms to make ends meet are engaged in a charitable activity. It's not even likely this would increase the real wages for housekeepers in the long run in any case; the federal minimum wage for employees who receive at least $30 a month in tips is just $2.13 an hour (something I was chagrined to discover when I waited tables lo these many years ago). If tipping housekeepers became universal, hotels would stop raising their pay and eventually start hiring new ones at the tipping minimum wage, at which point you'd kind of have to tip, as with waiters, since that would be their main source of income. Hotels would thus be able to emulate restaurants, whose advertised menu prices are artificially low and do not reflect the actual cost customers have to pay.

The whole concept of tipping is a distortion of what should be a normal, transparent business transaction. I don't tip Marriott's laundry service or its food wholesaler — those costs are figured into the price I pay for a room. If you want someone to carry your bags, that's optional and you should have to pay extra. But the bed being made is no different from having running water or working lights — it's part of the standard package you're paying for.

Do you tip your dental hygienist? The checkout lady at Walmart? The bank teller? As Rick Moranis told Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven, "This is my job. I get paid. You don't tip FBI men." If we're supposed to tip housekeepers, why not bank tellers and FBI men?

The whole effort smells of Marriott paying protection money to Shriver, like Jesse Jackson's various shakedown schemes. (None of the reporters covering this seem to have asked how large Marriott's donation to Shriver's organization was.)

The Census Bureau reports that about half of "maids and housekeeping cleaners" are immigrants (both legal and illegal). You know how to raise the wages of these poor, less-educated women spending their days cleaning hotel rooms? Cut immigration and tighten the labor market. You'll see how fast hotel chains start competing with each other to attract staff by offering more money and better benefits. (Tightening up welfare rules wouldn't hurt either.)

Instead, Marriott has lobbied to double legal immigration, in hopes of paying its housekeepers even less than it does now.