After participating in the Organizing Beyond Barriers program in New York City this past summer, I was certain that I wanted to continue working with UNITE HERE on economic justice issues. When I arrived at school, however, classes and other activities made it easy to lose sight of my initial desires. About a month into school though, I learned of an exciting political campaign in which a UNITE HERE leader was involved. A Local 217 member was attempting to be elected as the first housekeeper ever elected to the Providence City Council. This housekeeper was named Carmen Castillo.
Carmen Castillo has been a dedicated housekeeper at the Westin for seventeen years. There, she has fearlessly led her coworkers in the fight against the injustices of hotel management. At one point, the Westin implemented changes in their management policies that resulted in unsubstantiated disciplinary write-ups for members of the housekeeping staff. Carmen Castillo, nevertheless, would not accept this treatment. She led a delegation of workers to end this behavior. When Carmen and the other workers attempted to talk to management, they were told that no one was available for a discussion. Despite this obstacle Carmen was unfazed. Not only did she say they would wait until they were able to speak to the appropriate person, but she also demanded an air-conditioned room in which to wait. In the end, Carmen’s determination and perseverance put an end to the this instance of management disrespect at this Westin.
Stories like these are what motivated me to leave my warm bed at 7:00 am on Saturday mornings to knock on doors for Carmen. I loved walking around a neighborhood that was unlike my university campus and getting people excited about a candidate who I believed could really make a difference. I was also inspired by the possibility that I could actually have an effect on a community separate from that of Brown. Carmen won the primary in October by only 46 votes. This outcome means that every person to whom I talked and convinced that Carmen was the best candidate truly had an effect on the election. I was thrilled to be a part of this groundbreaking campaign and amazed to see students, organizers and members of the union unite in their support for Carmen and their belief that with a rank-and-file worker in the City Council there could be significant social change in Providence.
By Erika Inwald