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

Shaping a Movement over a Meal

Students and Workers Eat-In for a Just and Sustainable Food Movement

by Hnin Hnin and Kyle Schafer

It’s called the food movement, but what does that really mean? Last month, students and campus dining workers came together to show us that it’s about building community and making change.

When Slow Food on Campus and UNITE HERE’s Stir It Up Campaign celebrated National Food Month together with Eat-Ins across the country, it signaled a small but inspiring convergence of two worlds.

Over 300 people participated in 6 Eat-Ins hosted by students and local union members at Northwestern, Wesleyan, and Harvard and Yale (jointly) and by SFOC chapters at Hamilton, Vassar, and Clemson.  An Eat-In is part potluck, part protest. While each Eat-In was unique, they all shared the goal of building community to create change for good food and food workers—including everyone from the farmers who produce the food to the campus dining workers who serve it up.

Click here to read more.