Eventually, I found leaders like Kalia. Kalia’s father was a drug dealer who was killed when she was a kid, and her mother was a drug addict. Kalia grew up taking care of her younger brother. My coworkers listened when she talked. When a surly manager gave her a hard time after one shift, she called him out on it. He told her to come to the office so they could talk about it and Kalia said something like “Nope, we’re having this conversation right here where everyone is listening.” The manager walked away and never bothered her again. I knew we had our first leader.
Lam: Was getting caught or being noticed by managers the number-one thing to avoid?
Walsh: I never worried about getting caught. Once inside, I rarely talked about the union and salting. No matter how well-trained managers are to recognize salts (which they are!), they have no way of knowing. The best way to avoid being found out was to do my job—I was a buffet server at Calder and a bartender at Mardi Gras—well.
Lam: In your account, it seems there was a lot of pressure on you from Unite Here to stay on their timeline. Why was that?
Walsh: The local chapter in Miami had a plan based on contracts the union had signed with the casinos. The contracts essentially said the union would help legalize slot machines in South Florida, if the casinos in turn agreed to remain neutral during our union campaign. (They didn’t.) Those contracts were set to expire so we had a real deadline.
Lam: There’s a lot of dialogue in your book. Did you record the conversations?
Walsh: Nope. In Florida, you need people’s consent in order to record conversations. So I have tons and tons of pocket-sized notebooks, quotes written on receipt paper, and emails I sent to myself in the bathroom. I brought a tape recorder to work only once. I thought I was going to be fired that day and I wanted to get everything exactly right, Florida laws be damned.
When a manager came over and said they wanted to see me in human resources, I put my hand in my pocket and hit record. I must have hit the wrong button because I didn’t record anything. The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that employees can record work-related conversations. I think it’s still unclear how that ruling affects local laws.
Lam: Did you have doubts about going ahead with the book after your experience salting, or after telling your union colleagues at Unite Here about it? What were their concerns? Are you concerned that it’s going to damage the work of salts and the labor movement?
Walsh: I knew coming clean about the book would be extremely hard, and so I waited until I had a book deal and had written quite a bit, so there was no turning back.
The union was most concerned about the book tipping their hand, which I understand. However, anyone who thinks the huge corporations that run the workplaces service unions are trying to organize don’t already know about salting isn’t giving them enough credit. Many big companies know about salting and train management to recognize salts.