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As an old popular song from the 1970s asks, what do you get if you “work your fingers right down to the bone?” Bony fingers.

As the hardworking housekeepers for the sprawling Marriott chain of hotels know, that’s more than a cute song lyric; it’s the truth. Mostly women, these “room attendants,” as they’re called, are paid a poverty wage of barely $8 an hour by this hugely profitable lodging conglomerate to perform a very hard, physical job. Compelled to do very heavy lifting at unsafe speeds, they suffer the highest injury rate in the so-called “hospitality” industry. Some two-thirds of them have to take pain medication just to get through their day of heaving 100-pound mattresses, stooping to clean floors and toilets and twisting to readjust furniture in 15 to 20 rooms per shift.

Yet, Marriott’s CEO publicly hails the very women he exploits as “the heart of the house,” saying his chain likes to express its appreciation to them with “special recognition events” during International Housekeepers Week. Yes, exploited room refreshers are not rewarded with a living wage, but with their very own congratulatory week — how great is that?

Marriott is the corporate domain of the Royal Marriott Dynasty. The family was a big backer of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, which so sordidly tried to divide Americans between the few noble “Makers” (like the Marriotts) and the ignoble “Takers” — i.e. workers and retirees. The chain has 4,000 hotels with 690,000 rooms in 78 countries, operating under 18 different brand names (including Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Gaylord, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn and Residence Inn, just to name a few). It hauled in nearly $13 billion in revenue last year.

The extravagantly rich Marriott domain is a miserly employer that fattens its large profits by holding its hard-working housekeepers down with poverty-level wages.

Now, enter Lady Maria Shriver, grandly offering a plan to boost the pay of Marriott’s 22,000 North American housekeepers. A pay raise, perhaps? Oh, tut-tut — those who run in the Shriver-Marriott circles of wealth prefer charitable gestures to straightforward populist remedies.

Instead, Shriver’s foundation has “partnered” with the far-flung hotel empire to request that its customers pay a little extra in the form of tips to supplement Marriott’s low-wage stinginess. Reducing its housekeepers to begging for alms, the corporate giant has adopted Shriver’s “nobles oblige” program (gaily titled “The Envelope, Please”) by putting an envelope in each room asking the customer to subsidize its employees’ wages. The envelope even lays a little guilt trip on customers, saying that, “The hard work (of room attendants) is many times overlooked when it comes to tipping.”

Marriott celebrated International Housekeepers Week this year by proudly announcing its “new tipping initiative” — urging Marriott’s customers “to express their gratitude by leaving tips and notes of thanks for hotel room attendants.” Shriver says she hopes the voluntary tips “will make these women feel seen and validated.” Is that sweet or what?

Does the Lady Maria at least urge that this customer subsidy of Marriott’s miserable low wages be the standard 15-20 percent tip we give at restaurants? No, one to five bucks per night’s stay is recommended. Let’s see, at about $250 a day for a Marriott room, even a $5 tip is a sad 2 percent expression of “gratitude.” As for customers leaving a little thank-you note, imagine trying to buy a baloney sandwich with that.

How about this: Instead of paying $9 million a year to Marriott’s CEO, make him rely on customer notes and tips — and see how validated and appreciated he feels. Maybe that will show him that this is a disgraceful and embarrassing exercise of corporate feudalism. Come on, Marriott — stop playing Lord of the Manor and just pay a decent wage!

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: LA Wad via Flickr

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