Guest Post: An Immigrant Mother Fights For A Living Wage

Editor’s Note: The plight of immigrant women in this country has been on my mind lately as I put the finishing touches on my news story for New America Media. A few months ago, I was selected for a fellowship that requires the publication of a news story about an immigrant woman. I was intrigued by these stats: the No. 1 source of employment for immigrant women in this country is housekeeping. No. 2 — which I am focused on in my fellowship story — is caregivers for the elderly. Stay tuned!

With this in mind, a lightbulb set off when I was approached by a hotel workers union that, for the first time, launched a worldwide boycott of a brand. In this case, the Hyatt. I asked if they had a blog and headshot of an immigrant woman who worked in the industry and was involved in the boycott. Sure enough, they submitted this blog post. Read on and tell me what you think! -Elisa

By Sonia Ordoñez

My name is Sonia Ordoñez, and I am a single mother who was fired by the Hyatt hotel after standing up for my rights.

This week we are launching a global boycott of Hyatt hotels, and you can help by boycotting Hyatt and voting Hyatt Worst Hotel Employer in America.

My three year old daughter and I came to the United States to be with my ex-husband after he fled the war in Nicaragua.

Getting here was very difficult. My daughter and I had to cross six borders to get to the United States from Nicaragua. One morning in Guatemala, I went to the market to get something to eat. I turned around to pay and when I looked back again, my daughter was gone.

I went crazy, running around the market yelling “WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?” and looking for her. A nearby woman, who had seen us before, had seen a man snatch my daughter and she took off running after him. She ran into a radio broadcaster in the market, and asked him to announce news of my kidnapped child. Within moments, the entire market was looking for the man and my daughter. Eventually, the police caught him five blocks from where we had been standing earlier. He escaped, but my daughter and I were together once again.

When we reunited with my husband in the United States, I found that he had changed. He started to beat me and abuse me. I think he was still traumatized by the violence and everything that happened during the war. I got tired of the abuse, decided to take control of my life and I left with my daughter.

Around that time, my son was born. I struggled to take care of my family working through a temp agency — the only job I could get before becoming a U.S. citizen. These agencies and the companies who contract them do not care about or take responsibility for their workers. They pay a miserable wage and abuse workers’ desperation. They don’t care at all if workers get hurt or aren’t doing their job adequately. In the workplace, temp workers are kept separated from regular employees. They don’t have the same rights, have lower wages, and can’t join unions.

I took on two jobs to support my family. I worked one job in the daytime and another at night to try to make a good life for my children. But it was difficult. My kids would ask me: “Mom, when is your day off so you can spend time with us?” It hurt me to leave them with the babysitter for three whole days, but I knew I needed to provide for them.

I asked God to give me a good job, and soon after, I started working as a cook in the Hyatt and joined the union. I thanked God because I no longer had to have two jobs or work through the agency, and I could finally provide for my family and spend time with my kids.

But in recent years, we’ve seen things get worse in the Hyatt. In Boston, the Hyatt fired the entire housekeeping staff and replaced the women with minimum-wage, non-union temp workers. Some of the women had to train their replacements. I know what it’s like to work those jobs, and it is unsafe and you get no respect.

Less than 200 miles away at the Hyatt Hotels in Indianapolis, workers earn less than we do in Chicago, have more work and they have no voice on the job. And when Indianapolis Hyatt workers filed a lawsuit for not getting paid for all the hours they worked, Hyatt responded by firing the subcontractor, putting in jeopardy the jobs of people who bravely stepped forward in the lawsuit. If they can do it in Boston and Indianapolis, what’s going to stop them from doing it everywhere?

I don’t want to go back to having two jobs to take care of my family. We have to change this company we work for before things get any worse. That’s why I’m in this fight. From boycotts to civil disobediences to strikes, we’re standing up for decent wages and safe working conditions. We must show the Hyatt that in all the hotels across the country, workers must be treated with respect.

Stand with us by voting Hyatt Worst Hotel Employer in America!

And help me get my job back by signing this letter to the General Manager of my hotel. Thank you.

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About Elisa

I am a journalist and online organizer who is the co-publisher of this blog. When I am not online, I am shuttling around my two kids, an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: An Immigrant Mother Fights For A Living Wage

  1. Thank you so much Elisa, for writing this article. This article reminded me of how fortunate, and truly blessed I am in having been born in Puerto Rico. Being Puerto Rican, and a former Army Brat, has opened so many doors for me, and others having the same back ground.
    I’m proud of Sonia Ordonez, for standing for what is right. What she is doing will open the doors of opportunity to those coming after her. May God bless her with strength, and courage.
    I, also like baker baker am looking forward for part 2.

  2. thanks for this- i followed the link and signed the letter to hyatt

    hyatt is one of the hotels w/ a group rate for next years netroots nation- i’m definitely going to book a room at one of the other hotels instead.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story. It reminds me of how John Edwards was speaking out about the hospitality industry during the 2004 campaign. I hate that he was such a schmuck in his personal life, but he was spot on in this respect. He was ringing one of the early warning bells about corporations which flourish, while the working people who grow them suffer.

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