Interview with Eduardo Segundo
Miami IWW- Describe your workplace. What were the clients, workers, and environment like when you got there?
– It was a very draconian-style workplace, so for example, if the boss didn’t like the stubble under your chin, or didn’t like the dirt on your socks, that was considered a heavy burden. They would call you out on it – it was that kind of workplace. It was so trivial at the time; I didn’t really know what to make of it, but I knew what I was getting into (e.g., high-end hotels have an orthodox-view of how particular employees should ‘look’).
I mean, right from the very start, I saw all kinds of things: degradation of female workers, atrocious treatment of immigrants, management being unorganized in every aspect (from the kitchen to the pool). During that time, I didn’t really know anyone, and if I did, which was small, there wasn’t really much of a reaction (most of the workers had years of experience under these conditions and were already engrained in to the system).
As for patrons, they were mostly comprised of CEOs, and their families, celebrities, all those sort of people. In fact, whenever a big-shot venture Capitalist showed up, they’d make a big fuss out of it by printing a shot of his face, his biography, the kind of foods they liked, what time they wanted their alarm to be rung, all kinds of interesting things.
M- What about the workers like you? Mostly young? Immigrants? Low wage? Or more of a spread?
E- Yeah, it was mixed – old, young, immigrants, gays, etc. I can’t say low wage, because in my opinion, all wage is intolerable, but I guess there’s a so-called thing as humane wages, and I think there were fair, to some extent, but no one’s ever content with any kind of wage. Look, whatever the wage was at the time, it didn’t matter, we wanted more. I mean, why should the F&B Director be paid more when all he ever did was stop by the kitchen and pick out fries?
M- In that situation, were workers talking about the problems or was it just something you noticed?
E- Oh, sure. There were two brothers that spark memory, both from Chicago, had some run-ins with unions or another, and they were all for organizing the Pool and Beach. In fact, around the time the hotel first opened, they were approached by union members, but eventually backed off because they just couldn’t find the time and energy to make commitments. Being a workplace organizer means active participation, and some folks – like these two brothers – were more or less interested in using their energy for work. People have families, they have lives, and they have other places in life they want to explore. It’s tough.
M- What got you to start organizing there? Was there some spark or cause that made you think it was time to start doing something?
E- It’s the service sector, why waste a second not to organize? This is an industry that takes you nowhere, unless you want to reach the level of management, but even there, you’re someone else’s boss. But to more accurately answer your question, the spark comes at the very second you walk into work and punch in: you’re working for someone else at the point.
M- When did you start to think you could fight back though? From the beginning?
E- My gut feeling is that there was something I could do, it’s just that I didn’t know how to, hence why I joined the IWW. And the IWW was helpful. For instance, the IWW provided workshops that were tremendously helpful in assisting me in ways to work and combat these systems of power. And I used them, to best extent I could, but if it weren’t the IWW, I would have had zero knowledge about the interventions of a business union (and I was approached by them, too). So from a revolutionary perspective, it gave me an open eye — fighting back, that is. Fighting back doesn’t mean throwing yourself into the pit – it means getting along with others and doing things collectively.
In fact, another worker and I managed to fight for better pay and we managed to get $10.50 for food running, up from $10.00. But if it weren’t for my coworker, that wouldn’t have happened. I had to convince him to fight for better pay. He was fine with $10 an hour until the workload picked up. It took him a while but I got him to fight with me.
M- How did you convince him to fight? And how did you all win that raise?
E- He was the food running veteran. He was hired as a bar back but eventually they forced him out and into food running. When I got there, it was just him doing the work by himself, but at the beginning, it was more or less slow.
I maintained loyalty with him, but I always persistent and I wanted him to know that he was worth more than what he was bargaining for. Every worker is worth more than what they’re paid. That’s not even an argument; you have to be a Fascist to argue otherwise.
But anyway, when we were hired, they were paying him $9 an hour as a food runner, another runner and I were getting paid $10. It wasn’t until he found out about that that he became really upset. We didn’t know it at the time, but they eventually back paid him all the dollars for that month.
M- How did that happen? Just by confronting management individually?
E- No, collectively. He was getting paid the wages he worked as a bar back. When they transferred him as a runner, they just kept him at $9 (the wage actual wage for a runner is $10.00).
M- Did that include the raise to 10.50? Or did that come later?
E- That came later.
M- How’d you get that?
E- The food runner veteran was approached by the main supervisor, and he was promised that we would all get a raise (there were three of us running food, at the time). The ‘raise’ being offered to us was $10.50, and after several weeks, we did manage to get it. Actually, I have to laugh, that .50 raise wasn’t an actual raise. We later found out through the human resource director that the actual pay rate for the hotel food runner was $10.50 an hour. So all that time, we were all getting paid the wrong hourly rate!
M- Were there ever times when your coworkers confronted management together?
E- Oh, yeah, of course. I remember one time, a female pool server, was demanding promised pay or something, but it was between the servers (the majority of whom were females). I was at my lunch break, and I saw this pool server confront the boss: I never saw anything like it. But she was demanding better pay or something like that, with other pool servers behind her.
M- Anything come of it?
E- No, nothing. Just promises.
M- Anything you would do differently a second time around?
E- Doing things a second time around means learning from your mistakes — and there were mistakes, without a doubt. Personally, I’m someone who goes through S.A.D. [Social Anxiety Disorder] so just talking in groups or whatever is a tough task in itself. So I think I would build better relations, a stronger base of solidarity, and just working with workers in a more effective matter. In any case, having joined a syndicalist union has helped me to break fears of isolation, it’s helped me to jump into situations which I never dared of doing. With that said, just having a base of solidarity has exceedingly played a role in my politics, which is why I joined the IWW in the first place (I’ve been anti-authoritarian since I was a kid).