Hotel Maid Happy to Work on Thanksgiving
Article and photo by Holly Ng
After a busy seven-hour workday, Vanessa Zheng changes out of her olive grey uniform and into her sweater and jeans in the women’s locker room. As she exits the hotel, she wishes the doorman, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“It doesn’t really affect me because my children are all grown up anyway,” says Zheng, whose husband and three children–18, 20, and 21–treat Thanksgiving as an optional holiday and celebrate it only when it’s convenient to do so. In those cases, a simple dinner is served, with a supermarket rotisserie chicken or hot pot, a Chinese dish of meat and vegetables boiled, and served with dipping sauces on the side.
Zheng willingly went to work on Thanksgiving; she sees the holiday as an opportunity to make extra money. Because she receives double pay, earning $63.52 an hour on Thanksgiving, twice the amount of her hourly wage of $31.76. Zheng who belongs to hotel, restaurant and club workers union, Local 6, attained her current wage after working three and half years at the hotel.
Her Thanksgiving workday started at 8:30 am and ended at 3:45 pm. “Our manager told us that we could leave an extra hour early today if we are able to finish all our work, but I was only able to leave half an hour early because there were so many rooms to do today,” she said. “This Thanksgiving was busier than last year, perhaps because the hotel business is doing better.” The American Automobile Association projected that 50.9 million Americans would travel away from home this Thanksgiving, a 3.3 percent increase from last year.
According to the 2016 report, “The Hotel Industry in New York City,” by the Office of the New York State Comptroller, “New York State’s hotel industry has experienced a decade of strong growth, driven by an increase in tourism.” As a result, the city’s hotel industry, where immigrants make up two-thirds of the workforce, has been a growing source of good jobs.
A Concierge Enjoys a Quiet Day at the Hotel
By Jonathan Ward
Soft jazz wafts through the richly decorated lobby. Hotel guests in plain suits and dresses of the latest fashions watch the live band perform as they wait for cabs and the signal to leave for family gatherings and holiday events. In a corner of the hotel lobby a woman chats on a phone with two guests in front of her.
Tan, with short brown hair, dressed in a uniform of a white-collar shirt, black slacks, and a blazer, she says, “Yes. A reservation for two for the Thanksgiving special at 7:30 p.m. Okay, thank you!” Just before she hangs up, she adds, “Benjamin’s Steakhouse will be ready for you then, hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!”
Lillian Vicenty, a hotel concierge at The Lexington on 48th Street and Lexington Avenue, works the concierge help desk every Thanksgiving. One of the employee requirements at City Experts, a company that supplies concierges to hotels throughout the city, is for employees to work two holidays every year. Having worked for the company for seven years, Vicenty has seniority. “I can pick exactly what two holidays I want to work a month in advance starting in about October,” she says. ‘Usually I choose to work on Christmas and Thanksgiving.”
A single mother in her late 50s, her children have graduated from college and moved away; her parents have passed on. As for the rest of her family, “We don’t really celebrate the holidays like we used to anymore, but that’s fine with me,” she says.
Among the attractions of working on these holidays is higher pay—time and a half—a light workload, and other benefits. Even though the hotel is full, “most of the guests had planned their events in advance,” she says. “Usually I only need to work with a few that want to camp out for the Macy’s parade, or go to some nice restaurants for a Thanksgiving meal,” adding, “Not only that, but we celebrate here!” She points to a secluded corridor near the back of the lobby. “In the employee break room,” she says, they bring out a lovely Thanksgiving meal for all of us employees!”
A downside of the holiday shift is that the work day is two hours shorter, “so that’s a little less pay than you would think I get, working 9 to 5 instead of 9 to 7.” At $15 an hour with time and a half, she makes $180 per holiday. And the commute from the Bronx takes a little longer, “but it’s usually very roomy on holidays so that’s fine too,” she says. “It gives me another opportunity to relax!”