Justice Castillo: A Millennial Key Leader

Justice Castillo is a key leader at HMSHost. She started working as a Starbucks barista at O’Hare airport in 2015. After becoming a union escort, her involvement in union activities increased and she became the face of the campaign “Justice at the Airport.” Here, she shares her story.

Q: How did you first get involved with the union?
A: The Starbucks job was my first union job. At first, I knew I had a union job, but I didn’t know how to get involved. I was working at Starbucks and we were really short staffed, I was always tired and my managers weren’t listening to me. For summer break from school I wanted to switch to a day shift, and I found out I was going to be the union escort. My manager discouraged me from doing it but I got the job.

Q: How did being a union escort impact you?
A: At first I didn’t really know much about the union. I just did my job and escorted the organizers while they did their union surveys, until they encouraged me to be more present. When I started listening to the other workers’ stories about the healthcare, that’s when I joined the fight.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I’m proud of having been a part of the fight. During the strike, so many of my committee turned out. It really made me feel like a leader. I’m happy that we won health insurance for the workers at HMSHost.

Q: Now that you’re on LOA with the hotel team, what are you looking forward to?
A: I look forward to learning and growing with the union, and building my self-confidence and leadership skills. This is an exciting time to be on leave, because the hotel contracts are expiring this summer. I’m excited to join this fight.

Jermaine Gillen: Marching in Memphis to Make History


Jermaine, a shop steward at the Ambassador Chicago, has worked there as a housekeeping supervisor for 13 years. Jermaine travelled to Memphis with Local 1 to make history and march in the same steps as Dr. King and the sanitation workers.

Q: How has the trip impacted you?
A: 50 years after being given a glimpse of what a better life could be like, it’s still only a vision. We are still fighting for a living wage and healthcare. We have seen the vision, but we, the unions across the nation, are still fighting to bring it to life. We no longer want a glimpse of what can be seen through the door of injustice and inequality, but we are now here to remove that door and take what’s ours!

Q: What was a highlight from Memphis?
A: The highlight of going to Memphis was hearing Dr. King’s daughter deliver a speech on the injustice and inequalities that are still alive today in American society and workforce.

Q: How has being a union leader changed your life?
A: Being an involved leader has made me aware of different people’s lives and situations. I’ve learned to listen and teach people about how to fight for each other and themselves. There is power in numbers. I realized we all want the same opportunity to have better working conditions and wages.

Jermaine is now working to make sure that his coworkers who work alone in guest rooms or restrooms will be equipped with panic buttons by July 1, 2018. In his free time, he enjoys biking, spending time with his family, and being an active member of his church.

Navy Pier’s Most Requested Server

Acie Boyd is a pilot, a flute player, and a scuba-diving enthusiast. He’s also likely to be your server if you visit Riva (700 E. Grand Ave.) at Navy Pier.

Abdelhalim Albadr: Living Free

Abdel2In 2003, I came to the United States as a refugee because I feared for my safety in my home country Sudan. Leaving home was hard because I was going to a country that I didn’t know. But, the hardest part was leaving my mother behind. I didn’t know if I was ever going to see her again.

I will sum up the civil war that is going on in Sudan: the country is divided into two, the North and the South. The regions are divided into tribes and the government has favoritism over certain tribes. If they don’t like you because you are from a certain tribe they will arrest you or kill you for reasons that they say are “correct.” I suffered through these injustices and so did my family.  In Sudan, everyone’s lives are at risk – even children.

In 2000, I escaped the war and moved to Egypt. In Egypt, I worked two jobs as a construction worker and in a supermarket. During my time there I learned how to register for asylum through the United Nations. By applying for political asylum it allowed me to live in another country that was not my own and have protection from the war in Sudan. Applying for asylum was not easy because it was a lengthy process. I had to go through several interviews and background checks. It took a while, but I was granted asylum to the United States. 

I am very grateful that through the asylum program I got a lot of help from the US government. They helped with my travels, they found me a roommate, and they helped me get my first job at a cleaning company. However, my biggest barrier was the language. At first people didn’t really understand me and that was frustrating.  But, I took classes to improve my speaking and with time it has gotten better.

In 2008, I became a US citizen. As a US citizen, I have protection from the US government to go back to Sudan and not get arrested. So in 2009, I visited my family. I was very happy to see my brothers, sisters, and mother. I got married and had to leave my wife for a year in Sudan.  That was one of the hardest years of my life because I didn’t know if I would be able to bring her to the United States. Luckily, in 2010 I was able obtain a visa for her. 

Currently, I am the only one that is supporting my family financially and this has been thanks to my union job. I have been working at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel since 2004 as a banquet houseman. I had never had a union job before. In Sudan, the corrupt government controlled the unions. I wasn’t scared that my union job at the Ritz would be controlled by the government here in the US, but when I first started working I didn’t understand what it meant to be part of a union until I started attending meetings and actions.

Having a union has given me a voice at work. I feel protected from not losing my job, and I can stand up for my rights if they are being violated. This would never be possible back at home, and I am proud that my union taught me how to be a leader.  As a leader in the union, I make sure that I help my coworkers know where they can resolve their problems, and I teach them how to stand up for their rights at work. No one should be mistreated at work.

No matter how busy I get I make time for my kids and wife. I recently had a baby boy and have a two year-old girl. They are being raised in a different environment than I did where they are safe. I’m proud that they will be able to go to college, something I could never do. I don’t know if my kids will ever get to go to Sudan but that will be their decision. I just hope that one day my mother can meet them. 


Margaret Shields: I Am My Own Inspiration

Margaret Shields2I was 14 when I got my first job at a fast food restaurant. My parents divorced when I was really young. My mom was a drug addict and my dad was never really around. Living at home was hard. My mom would take my money for her drugs. My sister and brother were getting into trouble out on the streets. I had no other choice but to break ties with them, so I moved out when I was 16 years-old.

At the age of 20, I had my first boy and two years later I had my youngest son. My kids mean the world to me. I wanted to make sure they had a better upbringing than I did.  When they were young boys, my husband and I would take them to soccer and football practices. We knew that getting them involved in so many activities would help them stay motivated and off of the streets. No matter how much I had going on, I made sure to be there for my family.

 I’ve been working for O’Hare airport for 16 years. However, last year, 11 of my coworkers and I got unjustly fired. Around that time, my oldest son was starting college. I wanted to help him out in any way I could and be there for him in the way my parents weren’t. So, I fought to get my job back!

My coworkers and I supported each other and had each other’s backs. We knew we had to stand strong together to get our jobs backs.  What kept us together was that we always communicated with one another. If someone needed something they were just a phone call away. No one was ever left out.  

After 10 long months, we all got our jobs back! This was possible because we knew our rights and stood together. I was happy that I could once again help my family. And, just as important, I was also happy to realize through it all I gained a support system that I never had growing up. The union and my coworkers became my extended family.

Standing up with my coworkers to fight for our jobs helped me see that I could be a leader. I took a leave of absence (LOA) from my job to work full-time with the union. I want to make people stronger, so they know their rights at work. Being knowledgeable about your rights and your contract is empowering – I learned that when I lost my own job. I want to encourage people to support their coworkers and stand together, just like how my coworkers and I did when we were unjustly fired. Without their support I would have never learned that I am not alone. I now have the courage to ask for help when I need it. 

I am very proud of how far I have come in life. My kids are my proudest accomplishment. My oldest son attends Robert Morris University and wants to be a football coach. My youngest will be attending Chicago State University and wants to be a police officer. I was two steps ahead of my mom, and I always want my kids to be four or six steps ahead of me.

Linda O’Neal: I am a fighter for the people

Linda Oneal2My name is Linda O’Neal and ever since I was a young girl I loved to help people and make a difference in anyone’s life before making one in my own. This is why I have taken a leave of absence from the W Lakeshore Hotel where I work as a room service attendant to join The Contract Enforcement Team at the union.  

For those of you who are not familiar with The Contract Enforcement Team, we are in charge of enforcing our union contracts with the hotel and food service companies that Local 1 members work at. We also make sure that when someone files a grievance (complaint), we fight for them.

Grievance meetings are never easy. I remember my first meeting. You could tell how nervous I was by the sound of my voice. What really set fire under my foot was when management started talking about the members with disrespect. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I fought with grace and style, and that’s where I gained my confidence. I won and got the member’s job back.  

However, some fights cannot be resolved at the table when companies have violated our contracts. So, we take those cases to arbitration. Arbitration is just like court. Someone is a mediator like a judge. You have your prosecutors, which you can say are the companies and their expensive lawyers. Then, you have the defendants, which are us, the working people.

Being able to stand up to these companies makes me feel really good. Here I am, a room service attendant at a downtown hotel, fighting against these expensive corporate attorneys.  I am glad that I am able to do this because I want to inspire other members to be involved with the union and show them that the company doesn’t run the union — we do!

When you’re part of The Contract Enforcement Team your cell phone is on 24/7 and you work 40-70 hours a week. This is all worth it because I love to help other people. It’s like a saying in a Sylvester Stallone movie, “Saving a life is not taking a life of yours.” In other words, helping someone is not taking anything out of you.

Even when it’s tough, I try to give it my best because I am a fighter. Not only am I a single mother of three, but in 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to do radiation for three months while working at the hotel and volunteering at the union. When I would get home I would complain to my kids. Then, one day my children sat me down at the dinner table and told me, “Mom, you have cancer, it don’t have you.” Ever since then I’ve been determined to live a normal life.

I see myself working with The Contract Enforcement Team for a while. I feel that this is my calling and this is where I belong.  I want to keep fighting for worker’s rights at their jobs. Management better be ready for me, “The Snake Charmer.” Yes, you heard right: The Snake Charmer. The Contract Enforcement Team calls me this because out of all of us I am the one that most easily can persuade management to rule in our favor. So, bring it on!