The Union is making my dreams come true

The Union is making my dreams come true

By Carmelita Joy Melegrito – Housekeeper, The Kahala Hotel & Resort

Are you interested in writing for UNITE HERE Local 5? We also offer writing training. Contact Paola Rodelas.

I am one of the thousands of immigrants from the Philippines who is lucky to be here in Hawaii. Never in my wildest dream did I think I would move to another country. I hoped in Hawaii I could find a better job with good benefits and a high salary. Though I was also worried, I was still hopeful and excited.

I did not have any idea what kind of job to look for when I got here. I got hired at a food processing chain as a cashier. The salary was not good enough to pay our bills. I could not even send financial support to my family in the Philippines.

I heard that hotel housekeeping jobs are a good source of income, so I applied and got hired at a hotel. It was a non-union hotel where I had to clean 20 rooms, with six checkouts. I couldn’t do anything but hurry. Sometimes I couldn’t even eat lunch just to finish my tasks, and only for minimum wage.

In my third year working at that hotel, I got pregnant with my first and only daughter at the age of 37. I had to stay home in bed rest due to my risky pregnancy. I came back after eleven months and worked the night shift to do the laundry so I can take care of my daughter in the morning.

After my shift one night, the manager told me that somebody reported that I am not doing my job. He called me to the conference room with all the supervisors. It looked like I was in a courtroom and I was the accused. He questioned me if that’s true. I answered, “No!” Because I know I did my job. They could see the carts that were loaded with all the laundry that I folded by myself. They didn’t even listen to me, so I quit my job that day.

I applied and got hired at a union hotel, The Kahala Hotel, represented by UNITE HERE Local 5. Since I am a very hard-working employee, whatever the management told me to do, I just obeyed without complaining because my mindset was to get my job done whatever situation is. Most of the time, there were workload issues due to understaffing.

One night, I needed to rush because I was worried I would not be able to finish my room assignment. I was paired with one of my work mates. We had to clean two checkout rooms and two occupied rooms that needed servicing. My partner was doing the bathroom, and I was doing the bedroom.

There was a used drinking glass that needed to be washed in the sink in the bathroom. Because I was rushing to the sink, I didn’t notice the wet floor and I fell. I prevented the glass from dropping, but I couldn’t stop myself from falling and my hips hit the ground. I did not feel the pain right away, but after two to three days I got sick. I had a fever for a few days, and I felt excruciating pain in my back. From time to time, I can still feel the pain.

Everything changed for the better once I became a union committee leader.

Before the pandemic, I was asked to be a union committee leader by my coworkers Nida Ibarra and Cynthia Uy, who were also committee leaders. At first, I was skeptical because I was not aware of how being a union member works, or how to be a leader in a union.

I told them, “Sorry, I cannot do it, because I have a two-year-old daughter to take care of and might not be able to attend union events or do the assignments.” They told me to try and said they were going to find a way to help me. Cynthia even offered to take care of my daughter, which made me decide to become a committee leader.

While I was staying at home during the pandemic, I was an active member of the Local 5 safety core committee at my hotel. We did the regular safety inspections of the hotel to make sure it was ready to reopen safely, as well as delegations with the management about safety protocols. As part of the delegation process, I attended the IBSP (Interest Based Problem Solving) training. I was also involved in safety bargaining with management to establish a safety agreement. Management agreed on training and educating workers about COVID-19 before going back to work.

We were also given the chance to speak to Governor Ige and his staff to share our ideas about reopening tourism so that workers, guests, and the community are kept safe.

On May 16, 2020, the Kahala Hotel and Resort slowly started to reopen. Some workers went back to work on a voluntary basis that we continued to do until we reached the normal occupancy. Thanks to the hard work of the Kahala workers, our staff are back to work safely.

I was also recently voted by my coworkers as a shop steward at Kahala because of my active involvement in Local 5. I continue to attend a lot of union trainings—including shop steward, spokesperson, and communication trainings.

These are just some examples of the benefits that I have because I am a Local 5 union member. Not only did I learn and grow as an individual, but I saw how my coworkers and I could change our hotel and our community for the better when we stick together. I’ll never forget these advantages of being a Local 5 union member.

I was so excited to come to Hawaii, and hopeful that I could find a better job. Now I am going to make my dreams come true by getting involved with the Union so that my coworkers and I can have the best jobs.

Are you interested in writing for UNITE HERE Local 5? We also offer writing training. Contact Paola Rodelas.