Local ties to a national movement

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a national movement drawing more than 800 people from across the country to rally for immigrant rights in Washington, D.C., began with an incident in the Twin Cities.

It started when eight workers from Mexico were fired from the Holiday Inn Express in Minneapolis after they tried to form a union in 1999, said Jamie Gulley, a staff organizer for the Hotel, Hospital, Restaurant and Tavern Employees Union, Local 21, in Rochester.

According to reports, the workers were detained Oct. 13, 1999, after the hotel manager notified the Immigration and Naturalization Service that they were in the country illegally.

The workers alleged they were singled out by the hotel for their union activities. Hotel officials, however, said they reported the workers because of fears of being fined for knowingly employing illegal aliens, not in retaliation for union activity.

After the workers' arrests, the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought charges of unlawful discrimination and unfair labor practices against Holiday Inn Express. The hotel settled the case and reportedly paid each worker $8,000.


Pushed by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO reversed its anti-immigrant policy and embraced the cause of immigrants, Gulley said.

"They realized the need for immigrants to organize to create a better life," Gulley said.

Since then, the AFL-CIO went on to organize the freedom ride, he said. Locally, the ride is organized by Local 21, which is a part of the AFL-CIO.

"Local 21 is the largest union in this area, so they asked if we could dedicate staff time to the effort," Gulley said.

He agreed to lead the effort, in hopes of raising awareness of immigrants' contributions, Gulley said.

What To Read Next
Get Local