IRVINE — Aurora Guzman, who is four months pregnant, makes up 18 beds and vacuums the floors in 18 rooms every day at the Irvine Marriott Hotel. She wipes the reflecting glass on the sliding doors to the closets and makes sure the bathrooms are neat and clean.
But with every passing day, as her pregnancy becomes more pronounced, the issue of what will happen to her job when she gives birth to her first child becomes a more pressing one for Guzman.
"My husband says I shouldn't work anymore," she said as she reached for more supplies from a cart in the hallway. "He wants me to stay home.
"But the health insurance from his job wouldn't cover us, so how could we pay for our medical bills? If I do keep working, who will care for my child? I don't know what I'm going to do."
About 80% of the Irvine Marriott's employees are Latinos, officials said, and the turnover among them is high, largely because of child-care complications.
The hotel offers the women and their dependents medical insurance coverage and recently started a program whereby employees who pay into a child-care fund for their own children can receive a tax advantage. Administrators would like to encourage more of the employees to take part in that program.
But in an effort to keep more of the employees--many of them housekeepers or restaurant workers who earn barely over minimum wage--the Irvine Marriott conducted a "working mothers" seminar Friday. The brainchild of benefits administrator Christina Hicks, the program is being considered for implementation at Marriott hotels nationwide, officials said.
"The biggest labor issue in (the Irvine) hotel is the high turnover of working and expectant mothers," said Catherine Boire, public relations director for Marriott's regional office. "Many quit and never return to the work force.
"This is not an issue that applies only to the hotel industry, because a big part of this county's work force is Hispanic."
Many of the women need basic advice on prenatal care or information on how early after becoming pregnant they need to begin seeing a doctor. Others need to know more about their birth-control options.
"I think it's an issue that's not often addressed," Boire said.
Hicks said she looked around the Irvine hotel and saw that most of the employees were Latin women, many in their prime childbearing years.
She heard many stories about women absent from work because of sick children and about women having to quit altogether because they had babies.
"As a single working mother, I know the difficulty in finding affordable and adequate child care," Hicks said.
Over a lunch of chicken, yams and baked potatoes, about 30 female Marriott employees listened to a doctor who told them in Spanish and English about the importance of prenatal care. A representative of the Orange County Public Health Services told them about family planning and birth defects.
The doctor, family practitioner Gonzalo Martinez, explained Lamaze classes to the women.
"As Latinos, many men do not like to go to these classes, but I encourage you to take your husbands, so they'll know what you're going to go through," he said.
The idea, said Hicks, is that, armed with more and better information on these topics, the hotel's female employees will miss fewer days from work, will explore other options for child care and perhaps may not quit their jobs.
Several of the women who attended the workshop and luncheon said that the crux of the matter is that at their low pay, it is difficult to afford child care at all.
"Some women do not return to work because their salaries are not sufficient to pay for child care," Guzman said. "Others, if it is their first child, their husbands say don't work anymore."
She said her husband's insurance at work covers him only if he is involved in a work-related accident and does not cover her and will not cover her child. Nevertheless, he prefers that she not work after they begin their family, she said.
"My husband's not like that," said Juana Analco, who also works as a housekeeper. "He asks me every morning, 'Aren't you going to work yet?' "
Analco said she and her husband brought her mother up from Tijuana so she could watch the couple's two children while they both work.
"We had to bring her here because we couldn't afford to pay for a baby-sitter," she said.
Maria Quintero, another housekeeper, said she and her husband work different shifts--she during the day and he at night--so that they need a baby-sitter for their three children only about an hour a day. Her husband's sister, she said, cares for the children during the time neither of them is home.
The three women said that their pay at the hotel began at about minimum wage but that they are paid extra for working more rooms and that seniority brings some raises.
"But it is definitely cheaper for us to care for our children at home than to pay someone else," Guzman said. "That's why so many women quit."