Rhode Island Political Accountability Delegation

Only July 10th, 2012, over one hundred workers and community members came out from across Rhode Island to speak with politicians inside the Local 217 office in Providence. People spoke up in favor of fair wages, job security, health care, and creating a stable economy for working people. The conversation then turned to the Twin River Casino contract fights, where Twin River management has closed its two restaurants on Sundays, is attempting to take away time and a half on Sundays, and changed health benefits. Additionally, the operators of the fast food outlets in the building are attempting to lower wages by as much as 25%. People shared their personal stories in order to illustrate just how those changes would affect their middle class jobs and damage their families. 15 politicians listened, questioned, and engaged in debate about how they could support these casino workers. Providence Westin hotel workers, Newport school cafeteria workers, and students voiced their support, in hopes of creating a more stable Rhode Island economy for working people. Most of the politicians in attendance signed on to a letter in support of the workers at Twin River Casino. This was Twin River workers first political action as a group, and they are more motivated than ever to continue to fight for a fair contract.

“Hearing the workers personal stories of how a lack of affordable health care and decrease in work hours would affect their lives was a really powerful force in the room. The politicians took these workers very seriously because they stood strong, and they stood together.” – Bryan, 2012 Summer Organizer, Rhode Island

“Going to different youth organizations, work places, and talking to community members was a tiring process and I was nervous that people were not going to be at the action. It was so exciting to finally see all those people in one room supporting each other and speaking passionately about their lives. Afterwards, the Twin River worker said this was the first time she thought that politicians might actually do something for her.” – Nicole, 2012 Summer Organizer, Rhode Island

Update: Hotel room attendant, UNITE HERE leader newest member of Providence City Council

Carmen Castillo at a protest with students and her coworker Chris Cook.

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

A Chance to Reflect

Crew from Local 217 and Local 26My fellow Summer Organizer Chris and I were so glad to be a part of Local 217’s retreat last weekend. We deeply appreciated the opportunity to reflect on our work and grow closer as a team.
-Jen, Summer Organizer, Providence

Summer Organizer JenJen, Connie Holt, Courtney Smith, Karl Lechow, Chris, Local 26 President Brian Lang


Speaking Truth to Power in Providence

On Monday, June 13th, I met Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). It was my first time meeting a U.S. Senator! After we sat down at the conference table and introductions were made, I was given the opportunity to inform the Senator about the issues.

Here in Rhode Island, we are working with community allies to keep J.P. Morgan Chase from charging unreasonable bankcard fees to Rhode Island’s economically distressed, unemployed and temporarily disabled residents. We are asking the Governor to put the state’s contract with J.P. Morgan Chase out to bid as it expires, and we are asking other elected officials to support the Governor in making this decision.

I don’t get nervous often, but to inform a Senator about what is going on back home?  I was almost shaking. But as I started to hit my stride and make my key points, the Senator started to ask thoughtful questions. I soon realized that he was actively listening to us and was very interested in what we were telling him! At the end of the discussion, we stood up to shake hands and exchange farewells, and I did what any good Summer Organizer would do:

“Senator, can I snag a picture with you? To throw up on my Facebook page?”

Good-naturedly, the Senator smiled and said that he would allow it.

I told my wife and family as soon as I got home that I got a fantastic picture with a U.S. Senator and I felt really proud of what we got accomplished.

Not bad, for a Monday.

-James, Summer Organizer, Providence


The Providence Journal reported on July 30, 2011 that “Kenneth C. Kirsch, deputy director of the state Department of Administration, says he has met with the union and has told it that the administration will put the debit-card contract out to bid within the next month. The contract with JPMorgan Chase expires Jan. 14, 2012.” Si se puede!