August 16, 2011
Aurolyn Rush — 25 years — PBX Operator — Grand Hyatt
I get my ways from my grandmother. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been in the front of the line. I’m a leader, not a follower, and that’s just the way I am. I’m the kind of person that will tell people what’s right. I think this is something I get from my grandmother, who was a really strong woman. While I was growing up in New Orleans, she kept our household together. But when my grandmother died, my family split up and we all went our separate ways. My uncle and aunt left for Chicago and my mother and I stayed behind with my grandfather in New Orleans. I ended up coming to San Francisco after high school graduation.
Just like I get my ways from my grandmother, my granddaughter now is getter her ways from me. She’s three years old, and I can’t help spoiling her rotten. She’s my first grandchild, so we have this special bond between us. She’s just like me, very outspoken. She’s smart too, and if there’s something she needs she will ask for it.
I began working at the Hyatt in 1996. I’m a PBX operator there, which means that I answer the phone, take calls within the hotel, take messages, and note down packages that come in. I love hearing the cheery, friendly voices over the phone and finding out where they’re from. It can be hard, though. I have osteoporosis, so I had to borrow a pillow from housekeeping for the chair that I use while at work. I have also developed carpal tunnel because sometimes the workload is just too heavy.
I like the union because it makes us strong in the face of management. I first got involved with the union when I trained to be a shop steward at work. It wasn’t really any different from what I had been doing before since I was used to telling people their rights, anyway. I stand up for people and I stand with people. That’s just who I am. Some of my co-workers are more timid than I am. When we have picket lines outside the Hyatt, they’ll try to hide if the manager comes out. But I’m out there in the front, walking back and forth. I want the managers and guests to see me, and they all know who I am. When we have marches, I always want to be the person in the front holding the banner. This one time, we had a march in Union Square. I heard afterward that the Hyatt management was watching us from the windows of their meeting room on the second floor. Of course, they saw me in the center of it all and they shook their heads and said, “Well, there’s our Aurolyn!” They know me well. I know my rights, and they respect me for that. But management really just doesn’t care about us.
When we voted 90% to authorize a strike at work, management came around the next day and set up a meeting with the workers. The manager said “I want you to know that if there’s a strike, it’s your right to come in and work if you want to.” He was trying to intimidate us, so I stood up and said, “Excuse me, but I know what my rights are. You don’t need to tell me my rights.” and I grabbed my purse and walked out.
I want people to know that we’re not out here being greedy. We want what we are supposed to have. At the end of the day when we come home from work, we want to be able to go to the doctor, and not have to say “OK, it’s either food or the hospital.” We shouldn’t have to make those kinds of choices. We want to be able to go to the doctor. We want to have living wages and affordable healthcare so we can take care of ourselves and our family. We want decent pensions so we can retire with dignity and respect. This is worth fighting for. A lot of people say to me, “Aurolyn, why don’t you just quit your job and work somewhere else?” Well, that would be giving up and that’s foolish. We just want to be treated fairly.