Mauricio Barrera — Steward — Grand Hyatt San Francisco — 30 years of service
Someone asked me once about fleeing from El Salvador, “Weren’t you scared when you were running?” I said, They infuse you with fear in my country. You’re dead, walking alive. You’re just going to die for the rest of your life. This is why when I came here, I decided I wouldn’t be scared of anything. I walked through deserts in Mexico. In the darkness I would stand on snakes. You would only hear the rattles. The coyotes said, “Don’t harm the snakes and they won’t hurt you back; they can’t see you.” For me, the fear doesn’t exist anymore.
In my country, when they talked about having a union, the organizers had to go underground so they could organize workers. When you had a good group, then you confronted the company to say that the workers were demanding a union. And this is where the fear comes and what the fear brings. The employers would threaten the union members and say they would be fired. The employer would see a leader that was organizing and then they would end up dead in a river. Or they would be hung. When there were student or labor actions, they were pulling leaders from their homes. During worker protests, they would just bring tanks and kill us in the street. I saw that.
But in the US, as soon as I got hired at the Grand Hyatt, I was a member of the union. I’ve worked in the stewarding department at the Grand Hyatt for 30 years. In stewarding, we do all sorts of different tasks. I sign up for a schedule every six months and choose a classification. Sometimes its dishwashing, sometimes pot washing or banquet set up, or something else.
I have confidence at work because of the union. I know that we can defend ourselves if the employer tries to abuse us by loading up the work or ignoring the rules of the contract. If we didn’t have a union, like our brothers and sisters at non-union hotels, there would be no respect for the worker. They would push you here and there, asking you to work this station and another station. Automatically it’s an abuse. They’ll take advantage of using less staff to do more work. Even with a union and a schedule, the bosses would like to act the same way. But with the union and the members fighting, we are able to demand our rights.
I have found life in this country. I don’t speak perfect English so I can’t find work as a graphic artist like I had in El Salvador, but as a dishwasher I have a wage that enabled my daughters to become educated. Now they are professionals. One of my daughters studied criminal justice and she’s a social worker. The other daughter studied aircraft. We gave our daughters the freedom to create their futures.
The boycott is difficult, but I say, What’s better? To lose everything we’ve had for years? Or fight to maintain our current standard and continue to work toward our goal of a stronger union? We have to sacrifice through the boycott and share in solidarity so that the capitalists will give us what we demand.
Photograph Copyright David Bacon