Member Spotlight: Somene Laborde, Housekeeping Supervisor, Hyatt House Parsippany Whippany

Hotel Voice, Summer 2023

In March 2023, our Union won the best contract for suburban hospitality workers in the country. The Greater Regional Industry Wide Agreement (GRIWA) gives our members incredible wage increases over the life of the contract, affordable family healthcare, and access to paid parental leave and free legal services. Beyond the material benefits, the GRIWA sets reasonable workloads, requires management to treat workers with dignity and respect, and establishes a grievance and arbitration process to ensure the contract can be enforced.

For many workers who join our Union, these non-economic protections are as life-changing as the dollars and cents in our contracts. Union representation transforms the dynamics of power in a workplace, giving workers the ability to defend themselves, demand respect, enforce health and safety standards, and hold management’s feet to the fire for abuses and contract violations.

On July 10th, workers at Hyatt House Parsippany Whippany ratified the GRIWA — their first union contract ever. Hotel Voice spoke to new member Somene Laborde about how her work life has transformed since.

When did you start working at the Hyatt?

I started working at the Hyatt in July of 1998. This July marked 25 years for me.

What is your classification?

I started in laundry, then I got promoted to housekeeping supervisor. I’ve been in that position for over 20 years.

When did you first hear about the Union?

One day I saw a few people in the break room. I said "hello" and they introduced themselves as the Union. I was shocked, I said, "What?! Inside the building?!" Since I’ve been in this country I had never heard of a Union walking right into the building.

I’ve worked so hard, and I’ve dedicated myself to this company. We never had a good raise. After getting a paycheck we could never say, "Okay great, I can provide for my family." So when I saw the Union, in my mind I said, "something good might be coming." I signed a Union card on day one.

How did you feel when you ratified the contract?

What I remember most from that day was the raise. It’s good, especially for the housekeepers who were making only $12 or $15. Now they’re making almost $20.

The hotel wouldn’t give you a raise like that. They took advantage of us. They just want you to work hard every day — you had no choice but to keep pushing yourself, and you didn’t get paid enough for all your hard work.

With the Union, it’s totally different. I looked at my paycheck last week and I saw that I was making $23. It has helped me and my family. But it would have been better to have the Union sooner — 25 years ago would have been best.

Tell me about your average day at work — before the Union, and now

Before the Union, you had to come in and kill yourself working. I did everything. Everything. From laundry to houseman jobs — everything. On the days my coworker was off, I had to do her assignment. Managers would say to me, "Somene this!"and "Somene that!" Rushing me all the time. They knew they were using me.

Now that we have the Union, I think they got scared. I still always do my job, everything I have, I do. But now I’m not being rushed. I have protections. I know I won’t have to do work and not get paid for it (laughs). For all these years, the hotel only gave us thirty- or forty-cent increases. The Union contract is my first real raise.

Did you have health insurance before the Union?

Yes, I always made sure myself and my family were covered. I have three kids. You can’t live without healthcare. If your family member gets sick, what do you do?

We had a plan from the hotel, and for medical alone it was $200 every two weeks. It was difficult. I had to struggle to put food on the table.

The Union contract cut my healthcare costs in half, and they will continue to go down more next year and the year after.

If a non-Union worker was trying to decide whether or not to join the Union, what would you tell them?

I would tell them, if you see the Union coming to your job, speak with them — because you are like a lost child, and now you’ve found your family.

For our readers:

Our Union secured a “Card Check Neutrality Agreement” with Aimbridge Hospitality, the company which operates Hyatt House Parsippany Whippany. This agreement meant that our organizers could enter the break room, talk openly to workers about our Union and our contracts, and that the workers could vote for the Union simply by signing a union authorization card (rather than going through a government-run election). These agreements make it much easier, safer, and faster for workers to win union representation.

Somene’s shop was one of 12 Aimbridge Hotels our Union organized last year.