When the National Labor Relations Act was passed to protect the rights of workers in the US, “to win votes for the 1938 law from Southern lawmakers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced to exempt from its provisions workers who produce America’s food and care for people’s homes, children and elders.” At that time, of course, most agricultural and domestic workers were black, and the law was meant to keep segregation in place and make sure black people remained second-class citizens. And although some things have changed since then, domestic workers have had to survive without things like minimum wage, without health care, and often without the respect that they deserve.
Most domestic workers are women who are immigrants of color and much of what they do is undervalued, and not just financially. Those who hire domestic workers don’t see themselves as employers, so there are usually no contracts between employer and employee; the work these women do isn’t seen as hard, so they don’t get paid what they deserve; and ‘domestic worker’ itself is a slippery term, covering an arena of tasks from cleaning a house to looking after pets.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is out to change that. And they have had a few recent victories recently, including the passage of the International Labor Organization Convention for Decent Work for Domestic Workers a year ago. The ILO recognizes that “domestic workers are the same as any other worker.”
“The decision has allowed domestic workers to organize to win labor protections in UN member countries…In the United States, President Obama announced a proposed change the Fair Labor Standards Act which would provide over 1.8 million homecare workers with minimum wage and overtime protections.”
And two years ago, New York was the first state to pass a domestic worker bill of rights. NDWA is hoping that in 2012 California, which has 200,000 domestic workers, will also pass a bill of rights.
Domestic workers hold a particularly intimate place in the lives of their employers. They work in people’s homes, which means there is greater relationship between employer and employee than in most other fields. On the NDWA Web site the stories of several women are told who work in people’s homes. There is Maria Luna, from Jalisco, Mexico, who is motivated to work from a desire to connect with elders who’ve been abandoned by their children and who live alone. She wants to be the difference in their lives.
There is Marlene from Barbados, who tells the story of helping an elderly man who was a shut-in slowly leave the room he would stay in and then his house. Marlene talks about being part of the family of the man she worked for, of extending his life by six and a half years because of her presence and care.
It is simple, we are more than the roles that we hold: employer, employee. Even work is about relationship.
Learn more about National Domestic Workers Alliance
Quoted text from National Domestic Workers Alliance Web site.