Take Your Child to Work Day?
My memories of it are not what most would think. Girls and boys taken to the office, shown where the boss sits, where mom or dad sits, poring over spreadsheets and files. If not in an office, it’s walking down the aisles of a department store, a shop, a warehouse, or factory.
My experience was different.
Such days were always an opportunity for mischief when my brother and I headed over to the Moana Surfrider Hotel on the island of Oahu. Playing in the bins of toilet paper, helping the housemen load up the carts of cleaned linen, getting into the stocks of Almond Roca and Ferrero Rocher Italian chocolates that made it onto the bed pillows each night. J.R. and I were trouble.
All my life, mom was a housekeeper. I watched her push her heavy steel cart up and down the hallways of that magnificent hotel—the first on Waikiki Beach. She’d reach with an extended duster up on the top of the armoires, along the blinds, and across the shelves. She’d stoop to reach below the dressers, scrub down the porcelain toilets, restock the cabinets with toiletries. She’d wash out dirtied glasses and replace the plastic liners of the ice buckets. She’d vacuum, she’d fluff and straighten, she’d lift the mattresses to tuck and fold. Imagine doing that to larger queen and king-sized beds—all day long.
The laborious task of keeping her assigned rooms clean took a toll as she got older. As arthritis struck her hands with strain and pain, as knees, ankles and feet numbed and swelled, I remember the wearied look on her face as soon as she got home. She’d sit down. But only for a moment. For as soon as she took off her shoes and put on her house slippers, she made her way to the kitchen to slice the meat, clean the vegetables, sweat over pots of boiling broth, and plate the food to feed the family.
And during the cooking, if there was a wait for a simmer or a boil, she’d take the broom and sweep, or scrub down the counters and clean out the kitchen drawers, fold laundry.
It was after the evening meal that we would ride along with mom to Foodland or Safeway to refill the fridge and pantry, or Sears and J.C. Penney to fit the kids in new pants or shoes. I remember her biting her lip, debating with herself if the pants my brother and I needed, or the shoes we both needed were worth the costs.
It is my experience watching mom at work, watching her co-workers for that matter, and the visible toll of her job brought home, that I learned not just the meaning of “work” but also the meaning of “struggle.”
Take Your Child to Work Day for me was an encounter with the day-to-day struggle of my mom the worker, my mom the laborer, my mom the sacrificer—sacrificing of her hands, of her energies, so that my brother and I can enjoy good, healthy lives.
But I also learned that in the service class of which we were a part, of which I am a child, we were blessed to have advocates fighting, helping to ensure that mom was safe at work, that mom was paid a fair wage for her labor, that mom could enjoy help to raise a healthy family—with health insurance that paid for medicine and the doctor’s visits, dental insurance that paid for the braces that straightened out my teeth, and other benefits that helped put her into Kapiolani Community College, and my brother and I into universities in Honolulu and Chicago, respectively.
It is because of those times that I encountered my mom at work, I encountered the struggle she accepted for my brother’s sake, for my sake, that I’ve come to understand how much the AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE was there to help her, to help us. Because of those encounters I will never take for granted that labor unions helped our family, helped me get to where I am now. I will forever be grateful not only for my mom’s hard work but also for the safety nets that would only be possible with the advocacy of UNITE HERE Local 5.
I have witnessed the prices paid for my successes now. And also the advocacy that helped keep those prices fair. Despite all that has been said, all that has been argued of the place labor unions have in the fabric of American life, it is still relevant, it is still necessary.
Each day, struggles continue not unlike my mother’s. She still works at the Moana Surfrider. She still struggles. And so do millions of others.
In communities across the country, there are workers who are still exploited, robbed of their voices, denied the ability to move beyond their current stations. The injustices that remain, oppress not only the workers, but also their families. And if American workers’ families fail, then the nation fails its Declaration principles—the promises of our Republic, of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.
The AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE continue to advocate with solidarity in voice, in vision, in action for workers—the workers that are fired legally in many states just for being gay or lesbian; the workers that are denied equal pay for the same work because they happen to be a woman; the workers who’s paychecks are worth less and less as their wages never move to meet the true costs of living; the workers who toil in the agricultural and hospitality industries in secret because they are undocumented, and therefore fear to denounce injustice when they are exploited by their employers; the workers who are stripped of basic benefits despite soaring profits and dividends paid out to investors and executives.
It is a lie to decry the insignificance of labor unions in the 21st century because workers still need advocates.
That is why I am proud to be an AFL-CIO child, a UNITE HERE son. And that is why I will always stand with labor. Not only so that America’s workers can live out the true meaning of the nation’s Declaration principles, but I stand with labor in honor of my mother and people like her who keep our nation moving forward.
And that is the lesson I learned, and remind myself, each and every Take Your Child to Work Day.