Organizing for Our Fair Share

by Nestor Garcia

Clock Icon 5 minute read

In my life, I’ve been a janitor, an airport worker, a welder, and a hotel worker. Now I am a union organizer. I fight for working-class people to have a good job with decent pay and dignity.

I believe everyone should be empowered to have their fair share. Everyone should be able to support their family and realize their dreams. If you are willing to work hard, you should be able to make it here in the U.S. But working hard doesn’t mean keeping your mouth shut and doing your job. Part of the hard work is fighting for what is right.

Sometimes you might feel disappointed, but don’t give up. When the economy goes bad, businesses lay people off. They get more aggressive with discipline. A union gets the workers together to educate them. We join together and say to the owners, “No, you’re not going to take our jobs away. You are not going to lower our wages.”

We also reach out to the politicians, churches, and the general public—to let them know about our struggle. How workers are treated is not just a workplace issue; it is also a community issue.

The real estate developers come to our city to make money in the big hotels. They are just thinking about how much profit they can make on each room. We say to them, “This is not just a place to make money. This is a community. We live here and shop here, and our children go to school here. The wages you pay us circulate through the whole community and make this a better place.” United, we can make sure they see us as a community, not just a way for them to get rich.

Before I started working in hotels, I was a welder. I helped build the “W” Hotel. But the economy crashed and there were no welding jobs. I trained to become a prep cook and got a job working for $15 per hour at the “W” Hotel. As a welder, I had been making $36 per hour.

When I started working at the “W,” it was not a union hotel. Working conditions were not good. They didn’t pay overtime. They fired people for no reason. The cocktail waitresses had to wear very short skirts and high heels. They worked 10-hour shifts. They had to put up with a lot of disrespect and harassment. The housekeepers had to clean 18-20 rooms per day. It is very strenuous work.

We had no set schedule, so we could never make plans because we never knew when we were working from one week to the next. I was paying $116 per week for my family’s health and dental insurance. Even with health insurance, when my wife had a baby, we had to pay a $2700 deductible.

Five of us started talking. We held meetings with other workers. We met off the premises—secretly—at the McDonald’s or the food court across the street. We didn’t want management to know because we knew they wouldn’t like it and they’d find a way to punish the leaders. We brought housekeepers and cocktail waitresses together— people who had never had any reason to talk to each other before. But now we found out what we had in common—low wages and no respect. And we found we could connect around the idea of making the “W” a better place.

The hardest thing about organizing a union was trying to get people to understand that they have to stand up and fight for their rights. We brought in documents and charts that showed how much money the hotel was making off of us. We showed people that we were only asking for what was fair.

We spent three months having meetings at all times of the night in order to reach all the shifts. We had 15 committees and many new leaders in all the departments. I remember the day we had our union vote. It was May 11, 2010. We won by a huge majority.

It took about a year, and then we started seeing the benefits of being in a union. Family insurance decreased to $12 per week. The hotel put $7.20 per hour into a trust fund to pay for our pensions, education, and other benefits. The hourly pay for a prep cook went up to $18.45. We had job security, seniority, clear work schedules, and other protections. And the cocktail waitresses no longer have to wear high heeled shoes, and they got new uniforms— much more dignified!

Most importantly, we had a grievance procedure. If you feel like you aren’t being treated right, you are not alone. As a union, we back each other up.

About three months after we got the union, people started feeling more comfortable. They got more outspoken. They had a clear understanding of their rights and a way to fight for them.

I felt pretty good. I had done something for my fellow human beings. My wife worried that I would get fired. But all those co-workers, they trusted me. I became a shop steward. And now I am an organizer with the union, and I am trying to help other hotel workers get organized to bring in a union so they can fight for their rights.

Related Reads