Pearl River Mildred Edmond’s daughters were arranging a visit for me early in 2020, but then came the pandemic, postponing everything until the coast was clear. Sadly, a Facebook message from the oldest daughter found me overseas with the news that Mildred had passed away while I was gone. She would be buried before I returned, so I missed her on all accounts. The one thing I won’t miss is being able to mourn her, cherish my time with her, and appreciate the irreplaceable contributions she made in helping lead Local 100 for much of its more than forty-year history.
In 1980, Mildred was a housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency, when our fledgling, independent union, the United Labor Unions, started reaching out to workers where they cashed their checks between the Superdome hotel location and our Baronne Street office. She was one of the three women at the first organizing committee meeting of the union’s first organizing drive. . When the Super Bowl was played that January, she, Dorothy Canada, and others took advantage of the supervisors taking off and watching the game to go room to room, shutting the doors behind them to get other housekeepers to sign the union authorization cards to demand an election. After a long struggle with the company and their lawyers over the unit, Local 100 won the election by almost 2 to 1 to represent housekeepers, laundry, bell stand, and concierge departments for more than 350 workers in the first successful hotel election in the city for over 40 years.
In 1984, when Local 100 affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, she was the treasurer of the union and part of the SEIU agreement was support for a Hyatt Boycott to force the company to bargain. There is a picture in my office of Mildred with John Sweeney and Gene Upshaw, president of the NFL Players’ Association, when everyone picketed the Hyatt in support of our struggle, which finally achieved a short-lived agreement after seven years. No matter what the company threw at the union or at Mildred during that period, she never backed down, and that never changed. She was certain in her convictions and stubborn in her loyalty. I loved that about Mildred!
Over the years she held many positions in the union as president, secretary, and a board member until only a few years ago. She worked as a night union cleaner in One Shell Square, the tallest building in New Orleans for many years as well.
Thinking of Mildred though, I’ll remember other times even more than our time together in fighting the Hyatt. I would drive Mildred, along with other officers, Verna Ardoin and Rebecca Hart to leadership conferences and board meetings in our far-flung union, stretching across Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. For hours, they would talk about both what and how they cooked breakfast and other meals. She would share stories about New Roads and her mother’s devotion to high heels and Edwin Edwards. They would kid me about this and that and school both me and my children when they were along.
Mildred was always gracious and kind on these visits. She cherished some of the trips we made together to SEIU conventions in Toronto, San Juan and elsewhere. She also joined us on other trips with ACORN and Local 880. I’ll never forget sitting next to her in Lima, Peru on one of those first meals with everyone when they are still adjusting to time zones and different cultures. She cared about food, and was an amazing cook, as I’ve said, but when it came time for her order, she flatly stated in English to the waiter that she wanted wings. Not only did this Peruvian waiter have no idea what she was saying, even as she repeated it several times, but they had never thought about serving wings at this location in Lima. I leaned over to her and said, “Mildred, we’re in Peru now. They don’t serve wings.” She didn’t miss a beat. She laughed at herself and asked me to order something for her with chicken.
I could tell a million Mildred stories, while smiling and giving thanks for every minute that I ever spent with her and her beautiful family, many of whom, including one daughter and a granddaughter, also worked with me at different times. I may have missed her at the end, and that saddens me, but my memories of our friendship, our comradeship, and our shared time in building the union, will always be with me.