Love and union

The merger last summer of the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees was the reflection of an earlier “merger” which took place on a smaller scale. We reprint below UNITE’s interview with Rosa Garcia.

UNITE member Rosa García was born in a little town named Pénjamo, located in the Mexican State of Guanajuato. HERE member Erick Monge was born in the traditionally historic town of Chalatenango in El Salvador. When Rosa first met the young man who was going to become her husband, she had been a member of UNITE Local 75 for three years, while she worked in a dry cleaning establishment. When she started working at the Dry Cleaning Division of the Hotel Hilton where she would later meet Erik Monge, her co-workers had no union. She started thinking it would be good to form a union at the Hilton, so that workers there could get the benefits of unionization that she knew of from personal experience.

“That’s how I worked for four long years at the hotel,” says Rosa. “On one occasion, I was pouring myself a cup of juice, but I dropped it by accident. Erick came over immediately to help me out. He kept making conversation. I thought he was kind, but didn’t want to give him my real name when he asked. I made up another name because I wanted no flirting with him. He followed me to my workstation though, and kept talking. ‘Can I invite you for a coffee someday?’ he asked. ‘Who knows? Maybe,’ I said. I didn’t give any real meaning to that incident. Remember I was 24 years old.

“So in the beginning I didn’t like him much, but he was after me. I started paying attention. I was a presser at the dry cleaning department and he was a Housemen Supervisor. He used to sit at my table with me at the lunch hour. I noticed he was a very kind man. Then we started dating. And then we got married! We’ve been married for 10 years now.

“My husband has always been unionized. He supported me as a union activist. While working directly for the hotel, I thought, ‘Nothing will happen in this place without a union; we need one.’ My job position got closed then, and I struggled for two years getting constantly laid off, struggling and struggling. My husband supported me one hundred percent. He always invited me to his union meetings, and he always encouraged me to attend my union meetings.”

UNITE: In what sense has your husband been an inspiration to you as a union activist?

ROSA: He not only supported me one hundred percent, but also gave me very good advice: “Don’t get angry,” he often says. “Never get angry, never lose your sense of humor. Just solve the problems and get a good laugh.”

UNITE: In what sense have you been an inspiration to your husband?

ROSA: (Laughs) I helped my husband to improve his talking, which was not very convincing, and his outfit—he looked terrible! Which is no good for a labor leader, especially working at a hotel, where everybody judges you from the way you look. And I don’t mean using expensive clothes, but when I first met my husband the colors he wore just didn’t match and his clothes were all wrinkled.

UNITE: For a long-time dry-cleaner like you that might have been hard to bear.

ROSA: Of course! It is not only important for a dry-cleaner, but for a labor leader working at a hotel. “You’re my Versace,” he now says.