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We Organize Domestic Workers. Here’s Why We Decided We Need a Union, Too.

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We are in a moment of great uncer­tain­ty. The Covid-19 pan­dem­ic and sub­se­quent unem­ploy­ment crises are mak­ing all work­ers take a sec­ond look at their employ­ment sit­u­a­tion. As mil­lions of work­ers lose their jobs, oth­ers are fight­ing for pro­tec­tion, safe­ty and rights at work?—?and some are even union­iz­ing. That includes us, the staff at the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­ers Alliance (NDWA). We are orga­niz­ers, com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ists, accoun­tants, fundrais­ers, lawyers, press strate­gists and more.

In March, long­time whis­pers about orga­niz­ing turned into sus­tained con­ver­sa­tions about how to form a union. As an orga­ni­za­tion that’s pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed by foun­da­tions, we didn’t know what would hap­pen if that fund­ing dried up in a reces­sion; we didn’t know if there would be lay­offs, and if there were, if there would be sev­er­ance pack­ages. NDWA pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive ben­e­fits pack­age?—?yet we rec­og­nize that if times get tough, or if foun­da­tion fund­ing ends, these ben­e­fits could cease to exist. We’ve seen the dev­as­ta­tion the pan­dem­ic is inflict­ing and how ben­e­fits like employ­er-pro­vid­ed health insur­ance can be lost overnight. With­out a union and the abil­i­ty to nego­ti­ate a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, work­ers are that much more vul­ner­a­ble?—?and eco­nom­ic upheaval puts them in a place of even greater pre­car­i­ous­ness. These are the sce­nar­ios that were play­ing out en masse as the pan­dem­ic spread, and they were the spark that set in motion the first orga­niz­ing dri­ve in the his­to­ry of our orga­ni­za­tion.

For many of us, our work­loads sky­rock­et­ed dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. The scale of our work ramped up as the domes­tic work­ers we orga­nized were faced with mass job loss, unsafe con­di­tions at work, inad­e­quate pay to account for their risk, and the threat of catch­ing the dead­ly virus. We orga­nize and move­ment build in a sys­tem that already deval­ues work­ers and neces­si­tates work­er exploita­tion. Covid-19 cre­at­ed a height­ened need for our folks to orga­nize and be orga­nized, fight for our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, and demand more. This meant the orga­niz­ing nev­er stopped. We were work­ing inces­sant­ly to con­nect with and sup­port domes­tic work­ers, who were dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed by Covid-19 and its eco­nom­ic reper­cus­sions. Many of us were also deal­ing with our own Covid-19 relat­ed prob­lems and try­ing to bal­ance work, child­care and the care of our fam­i­lies.

As we moved our work to the dig­i­tal sphere, we simul­ta­ne­ous­ly became more con­nect­ed to oth­er staff in our orga­ni­za­tion. Work areas that were pre­vi­ous­ly sep­a­rat­ed due to focus or geog­ra­phy became more inte­grat­ed, and new con­nec­tions were forged. Our con­ver­sa­tions about want­i­ng to mod­el our organization’s vision of ?“dig­ni­ty, uni­ty, and pow­er” for its own staff grew loud­er and more seri­ous. What were once off­hand remarks about the dual­i­ty of our labor orga­ni­za­tion not hav­ing its own union or inter­nal work­er bar­gain­ing unit turned into action and com­mit­ment. Our con­ver­sa­tions spoke to how much we appre­ci­at­ed our orga­ni­za­tion, and yet how we rec­og­nized that NDWA wasn’t above per­pet­u­at­ing com­mon pit­falls that all work­ers can expe­ri­ence in their work­place.

Dur­ing our orga­niz­ing process we learned of chal­lenges like salary dis­par­i­ties?—?due to what we believe are arbi­trary and unclear process­es for deter­min­ing and rene­go­ti­at­ing our pay. We engage our domes­tic work­er mem­bers often in skills build­ing to nego­ti­ate their salaries and know that indi­vid­ual advo­ca­cy absent of large-scale stan­dards set­ting can only go so far. With­out clear guide­lines and met­rics for salaries, favoritism and per­son­al rela­tion­ships can all affect pay. This also means that peo­ple who don’t have the nec­es­sary tools to advo­cate for them­selves can lose out on rais­es and pro­mo­tions. Because these tools are social­ly and cul­tur­al­ly imbued, this has a greater detri­men­tal impact on Black women and women of col­or, who make up the major­i­ty of our staff. As an orga­ni­za­tion that’s tasked with orga­niz­ing and ele­vat­ing the voic­es of a work­force that’s dom­i­nat­ed by women of col­or, we need to put our mon­ey where our mouth is.

Bar­gain­ing direct­ly with our employ­er as a group will help us bet­ter under­stand our organization’s finan­cial sit­u­a­tion and allow us to raise the salary floor so pay is trans­par­ent and fair. Col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments have been proven to help even the play­ing field for women work­ers and work­ers of col­or. Through our dis­cus­sions and con­ver­sa­tions, it became obvi­ous that we need­ed to unite togeth­er to form a union and exer­cise our col­lec­tive strength?—?which is why, after four months of orga­niz­ing, we approached our boss­es with near­ly 100% sup­port, demand­ing union recog­ni­tion.

We love where we work and what we do, and our union affords us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect, learn about each other’s work, and use our col­lec­tive voice for improve­ments at NDWA. Many of us worked remote­ly before the pan­dem­ic, and now it’s obvi­ous­ly unclear when or if some of us will go back to offices. We work on so many dif­fer­ent projects at NDWA?—?orga­niz­ing domes­tic work­ers to fight for respect and recog­ni­tion, win­ning poli­cies (includ­ing Domes­tic Work­ers Bill of Rights in two cities and 9 states), ele­vat­ing domes­tic work­ers’ voic­es, cre­at­ing tech­nol­o­gy to sup­port domes­tic work­ers, and more?—?that it’s some­times hard to keep up. Because of this lack of cohe­sion, we suf­fer from high turnover. Even in the best work­places, with­out a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, work­ers may feel afraid to speak up about things they want to change. We think our silence and inabil­i­ty to make real changes only hurts NDWA?—?and that’s why we orga­nized. Our union will help us cen­tral­ize our cam­paigns, improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion and retain work­ers. Our union will make NDWA stronger! A union will make your work­place stronger, too.

We want to have a voice at NDWA, and we want oth­er work­ers to have one too?—?whether they work at a non-prof­it, a union, or some­place else entire­ly. And in a soci­ety where work­ers are con­stant­ly under attack?—?espe­cial­ly women work­ers and Black work­ers and work­ers of col­or?—?we are proud to be part of a resur­gence of the labor move­ment. We fight hard for our mem­bers to have dig­ni­ty and respect, and we encour­age them to come togeth­er with oth­er work­ers to win the rights and recog­ni­tion that they deserve. We are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of domes­tic work­er lead­ers like Dorothy Bold­en?—?and we encour­age you to do the same!

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The NDWA Staff Union Organizing Committee


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Nationalize Payrolls Now; Gig Work is a Fancy Name for Exploitation; Domestic Workers in the Pandemic

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Calling people “gig” workers is a subtle trap. “Gig” can sound anywhere from upbeat to just a mundane description. The truth is the “gig” economy is just another way of exploiting people and it’s a dream for all capitalists to have a pool of workers who can be used and abused at the beckon call of a supply chain or a big tech company, at the lowest cost possible. And not a surprise—lots of gig workers are at great risk during the pandemic. I explore the lives of “gig” workers in a conversation with Bama Athreya, an economic policy fellow at the Open Society Foundation and a veteran social movement activist.

The pandemic has put domestic workers at risk. Think of it logically: you can be locked down in a home with your client, essentially enslaved, with nowhere to go and no social distancing space. You could easily be trapped in a home, forced to stay inside because of a curfew, without personal protection equipment. Elizabeth Tang, the General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation, joins me from her perch in Hong Kong to talk about the pandemic threats facing domestic workers.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on May 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. He is President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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Stephanie Land’s ‘Maid’ shows the limits of hard work in struggle to survive the U.S. economy

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How could Stephanie Land’s book Maid not make a splash, with the opening sentence, “My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter,” and a follow-through that lives up to the impact of that sentence? A splash it has made, debuting at number three on The New York Times bestseller list over the winter, and now being turned into a TV show and making former President Barack Obama’s summer reading list. Land’s book tells the story of years spent scraping by as a single mother to her daughter Mia, patching together government aid and work cleaning houses while coping with inadequate housing, inadequate child care, an abusive ex, and the constant stress and pain involved in all those things. But it’s also a challenge to its readers, pushing us to reckon with the comprehensive stresses of poverty, the importance of government assistance, and—for those who can afford to have someone else clean their homes—how to do the ethical thing (more on that coming soon, at least for people living inWashington, D.C., Baltimore, and Boston).

Maid is a beautiful book and a sad book and even, at times, a joyful book—a story of a mother’s love for her daughter—but most of all it’s an important book about the U.S. economy and what it does to people. Maid is filled with keen observations of the houses Land cleaned—she first broke through as a writer with a Vox piece about what she saw in those homes—and devastating details about what it takes, as a low-paid service worker, to make comparatively wealthy customers happy: ignoring the copious amounts of porn in one house, or the pills in another, dealing with the dog poop on a beige carpet. Getting every last hair out of a tub coated in the owner’s bath oils.

Land also weaves into that narrative the insecurity, indignity, and fear involved in poverty—the doctors who suggest she’s a bad mother because poverty is making her daughter sick; the moments when a client does treat her as a human being, a peer, moments that shine through because they’re so unusual; the vulnerability to heat and cold and mold in a shoddy apartment; the need to keep an old car running; the physical pain and hunger. “I walked along a deep precipice of hopelessness,” she writes. “Each morning brought a constant, lip-chewing stress over making it to work and getting home without my car breaking down. My back ached constantly. I dampened my hunger pangs with coffee. It felt impossible to climb out of this hole.”

Part of the reason this works so powerfully within the framework of the stories the United States tells about itself, of course, is because Land is so middle-class in her tastes and aspirations—because the next sentence in the above passage is, “My only real hope was school: an education would be my token to freedom.” Because she wants her daughter to eat fresh berries and drink organic milk, because she see books in a man’s apartment as an attraction, because she is someone who can write her way out of poverty. She is tailor-made to appeal even to people who don’t support a strong safety net or who don’t see low-wage workers as worthy of respect. But Maid is an important book about U.S. politics precisely because Land is constantly aware of how exactly that works in her life—how the people around her don’t see her as someone who is, who could be, desperately poor. How her friends and employers don’t imagine her to be on government aid as they sneer at and insult people on government aid, people that she keenly points out are always seen as other in a way she is not.

Land is crystal clear that she survived with the help of government assistance: Chapter 5 of the book, in fact, is titled, “Seven different kinds of government assistance.” She shows powerfully how difficult that assistance is to access and how inadequate to her needs it is. And she is equally clear about who doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt while she, as a white woman working her way through college, did, writing about a cleaning client—someone from whom she needed employment—railing, “Last time I went to the big store, I got in line behind a Mexican family … They used food stamps to pay for their food. And those kids were dressed to the nines!”

In that moment, Land writes, she kept cleaning the woman’s house, biting her tongue and thinking “of how much Mia loved her fancy dresses and shiny shoes, which I purchased with credit from the consignment store. Maybe Donna didn’t realize I was on food stamps, too.” She goes on:

I wanted to tell Donna that it wasn’t her business what that family bought or ate or wore and that I hated when cashiers at the supermarket said “On your EBT?” loud enough for people in line behind me to hear. I wanted to tell her that undocumented people couldn’t receive food benefits or tax refunds, even though they paid taxes. They couldn’t receive any benefits at all. Those were available only for people who were born here or who had obtained the documents to stay. So those children, whose parents had risked so much to give them a good life, were citizens who deserved every bit as much government help as my daughter did. I knew this because I’d sat beside them in countless government offices. I overheard their conversations with caseworkers sitting behind glass, failing to communicate through a language barrier. But these attitudes that immigrants came here to steal our resources were spreading, and the stigmas resembled those facing anyone who relied on government assistance to survive.

That’s a passage that speaks especially loudly in the era of Donald Trump, of course, while reminding readers that Trump didn’t create this kind of bigotry.

In some of Maid’s most poignant moments, Land permits herself to dream, briefly, of luxuries not available to her. There are the tickets to a Mariners game, offered to her by a client, that are “a dream I’d had since I’d been Mia’s age,” but that she can’t use herself because she can’t afford the gas money. Or the time she “noticed the hot tub with an empty bottle of champagne sitting in the corner” at a home she’s cleaning and “My body ached, yearned for even a chance, just one opportunity, to drink champagne in a hot tub.” I dearly hope that the book’s success has let her live out those, and other, daydreams. But you shouldn’t have to write a bestseller to get a single afternoon or evening of fun and relaxation, and it would be difficult for me, at least, to enjoy a kitchen that’s clean because someone else was doing painful labor and still living in poverty.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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The First-Ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Was Just Unveiled—And It’s a Game Changer

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When Rosa Sanluis arrived in the United States, she earned $60 per week for a seemingly endless set of household tasks, working for a family in Texas. She worked from 5 a.m. until late at night, sometimes 3 a.m. on weekends, when her employers would go out and leave her to babysit. Like most domestic workers, Sanluis didn’t receive a written contract, uninterrupted breaks, sick leave, or overtime pay—because she wasn’t entitled to them under law.

Today, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) announced a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise wages and labor conditions for workers like Sanluis. The legislation is expected to be introduced when the new Congress convenes next year.

“It is time—and past time—to fully correct the historical injustice that left a workforce largely made up of women of color shut out of the protections of core labor standards,” Rebecca Smith, Work Structures Director of the National Employment Law Project, tells In These Times. 

Co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the legislation draws on the recommendations of domestic worker leaders as well as similar bills of rights for domestic workers that have been passed in eight states and in Seattle. “Domestic workers are shaping the future of our economy,” Jayapal tells In These Times in a statement. “Their strength, courage and power inspires us all as we fight together for workplace democracy.”

The legislation would include domestic workers in Civil Rights and Occupational Health and Safety Act protections, and require fair scheduling, meal and rest breaks, written contracts and protection from retaliation. It would also increase access to retirement benefits, paid sick leave, healthcare and training programs. Additionally, the bill seeks to facilitate collective bargaining by domestic workers and would establish a federal task force on domestic workers’ rights. 

The bill offers special protections to live-in domestic workers, who were previously ineligible for overtime pay. These workers are especially likely to work long hours without breaks, and to report that their employers expect them to be constantly on call, even during scheduled time off.

“Absolutely [overtime pay] would have changed my life,” Sanluis says through an interpreter. “When you’re earning so little, your access to things is completely limited.” The bill would also guarantee live-in workers’ right to privacy and adequate notice in case of termination–a protection that’s especially important when losing a workplace also means losing a home.

Working in private homes, and largely excluded from Civil Rights Act sexual harassment protections, domestic workers are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, these workers are demanding substantive workplace protections in the form of access to “panic buttons”—devices required by law in some cities that can be activated in case of sexual harassment or threats—along with research into federal policies to support domestic worker survivors.

Silvia Reyes, a nanny in New York who described being sexually harassed by her former employer, says, “It’s not fair to feel insecure in your work, and to feel scared and feel alert all the time. It’s a horrible thing to have happen to you every single day, the whole day.”

The bill comes at a pivotal time for domestic workers and those who rely upon them. Women, traditionally the caretakers of children and the elderly, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. And the American population is aging rapidly: Every eight seconds, a baby boomer turns 65. Women, including women with children, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. “As people live longer, we have the opportunity to embrace an intergenerational future in America, where all of us are cared for at each stage of our lives,” says NDWA Executive Director Ai-jen Poo in an emailed statement. 

“Quality care and workers’ rights are inextricably linked,” says Nik Theodore, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of urban planning and policy. When workers have economic security, he explains, they’re able to provide higher-quality care.

In response to the demand for their services, the number of domestic workers is growing. By 2030, caregiving is predicted to represent the largest segment of America’s workforce. And domestic workers are “some of the most vulnerable workers,” says Barnard College history professor Premilla Nadasen. Ninety-five percent are women and more than half are women of color. An estimated 45 percent are immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center, both documented and undocumented.

Like many workers who are employed in what’s considered “women’s work,” domestic laborers are chronically underpaid. According to a 2017 report from the NDWA, less than half of domestic workers are paid enough to adequately support a family, and 20 percent report that, in the last month, there have been times when they had been unable to afford food.

When the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act were enacted in the 1930s, both excluded domestic workers, leaving them without the minimum wage, overtime, and collective bargaining protections offered to other workers.

“Southern congressmen were fearful that granting black workers labor rights would disrupt the racial order of the South,” Nadasen says. “And Northern labor leaders representing industrial unions also never saw domestic workers as part of their constituency and did not advocate for their rights.”

In 1974, domestic workers finally won the federal minimum wage and other protections, but those protections still weren’t extended to casual workers like babysitters, or companions to the elderly. As Lizzy Ratner wrote in The Nation in 2009:

Because most domestic workers labor in environments with fewer than fifteen employees, they are also excluded from such key civil rights legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII, which bars most kinds of employment discrimination. Add to this the difficulty of enforcing even the few protections that do exist—particularly for undocumented workers—and for many domestic workers it’s still 1934.

“We see the gaps that still exist,” says the NDWA’s Marzena Zukowska. “There are [domestic] workers who live in states that aren’t friendly to workers’ rights or immigrants’ rights,” like Texas, which has the third highest number of domestic workers in the country, about half of whom are undocumented or lacking work authorization. “For the first time in history, we have a chance to raise the bar for every domestic worker in our country,” says Poo. 

For Sanluis—now an organizer with the Fuerza del Valle Workers Center—the success of prior bills is proof that federal legislation is achievable too. “Take a look at the bill, analyze it, be conscious of the fact that we are also human beings, and we deserve the same basic rights and protections as workers in other industries.” 

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 29, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Stoner is a writer in Chicago.


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New U.N. Report Shows Just How Awful Globalization and Informal Employment Are for Workers

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elizabeth grossmanFreedom of peaceful assembly and association, says a new United Nations report, “are essential to human dignity, economic empowerment, sustainable development and democracy. They are the gateway to all other rights; without them, all other human and civil rights are in jeopardy.” But these rights, says the report, are being jeopardized by the recent dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and their dependence on global supply chains and the growing informal and migrant workforce. While these rights are most imperiled in the world’s poorest countries, workers in the United States are also facing these problems.

Undertaken by the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the U.N. report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. In fact, worldwide, most workers are now without formal employment arrangements. According to the report, an estimated 60.7 percent of the world’s workers “labor in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated or socially protected.” In some countries this workforce rises to 90 percent. The report also notes that while such employment has always existed, the rise of global supply chains has “exponentially expanded its growth.” As a result, some 1.5 billion people or 46 percent of the world’s workers, now experience what the report calls “precarious employment.” More than 70 percent of people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work this way.

This workforce includes self-employed, contract and part-time workers, and day laborers—and often those working in special economic zones where, as the report describes, “worker protections are sharply reduced or eliminated in order to attract foreign investment.” It encompasses professions of all skill levels, from teachers, to taxi drivers, call-center and agricultural workers. These arrangements often involve on-call schedules, short-term contracts and multi-layered subcontracts—all of which add to workers’ difficulties in asserting rights and difficulties in enforcing labor laws. Women, because they make up the majority of the world’s agricultural and domestic workers, are especially burdened by the lack of labor protections.

As anyone working in this world knows, such jobs do not have typical employment benefits like health and unemployment insurance, sick leave, overtime pay and other wage protections. Workers have little opportunity to organize, form unions or bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. This situation, says the U.N. report, is contributing to wealth inequality worldwide.

But it’s not just globalization that’s swelling the ranks of workers whose right to organize is in jeopardy. Conflict, war and climate change are also contributing to the world’s growing migrant population that’s now its largest since World War II, notes Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center. These people “have become a major low-wage workforce that is excluded from opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions,” says De Souza. And, he explains, these workers are now woven into the fabric of world economics—sending to their home countries an estimated $580 billion in 2014.

The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)
The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)

The United States is no exception

While the impact of working without the freedom to organize is most dire in the world’s poorest countries, “the U.S. is no exception to the types of labor rights abuses the report lays out,” Oxfam America regional director Minor Sinclair tells In These Times. “The abuses of labor and the changes in the economy, and how that disadvantages labor and labor rights—the U.S. is as much caught up in that as any other country,” says Sinclair.

The economy’s structure is changing “in a way that disadvantages even more workers,” Sinclair explains. Whether through layers of subcontractors that ultimately employ factory workers in Bangladesh, U.S. meat processing workers or college graduates working the “gig economy,” the report reflects the fact that “increasingly, people don’t have employers that are responsible for workers’ rights,” says Sinclair. And this makes it “harder for workers to advocate for (these rights) and protections.”

The impacts of this situation are, of course, most acute at the low-wage end of the employment spectrum, a workforce that often includes immigrant workers. In the United States, as elsewhere, farmworkers and food processing workers are especially vulnerable and lacking in protected labor rights, as are domestic workers. The report says that in the United States, immigrant workers “who attempt to exercise their rights are often blacklisted by employers, who use the threat of denied future work opportunities to silence workers.”

Sinclair also notes the impact and rise of right-to-work laws across the United States, which are now in place in 26 states. “Basic labor rights, the right to unionize and right to strike, are severely compromised by right-to-work laws,” he says. The report describes what’s happened to workers in states in the U.S. South where these laws are in place—and how corporations have taken advantage of the lack of unionization.

Solutions

When it comes to solutions, the U.N. report sees little progress in support of workers’ freedom to assemble and organize coming from voluntary corporate social responsibility and auditing programs. Such programs, says the report, “are not a substitute for legally binding, robust enforcement of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.” It calls on businesses to refrain from anti-union policies and practices and to support labor rights throughout their supply chains, especially for workers in “vulnerable situations,” including migrant and minority group workers.

Despite this trend, Oxfam’s Sinclair says he sees “some real signs of hope in the legislative work around the right to $15 per hour and the new federal overtime regulation.” He also notes that, albeit slowly, corporations are beginning to realize that “rights erosion is not a sustainable business model.” That said, he also fears that we’re moving towards “a bipolar work situation,” where “some people have workers’ rights and some people don’t.” But because this situation now affects everyone from university teachers to auto manufacturing and farm workers, he also holds out hope the issue of workers’ rights will finally get substantive attention.

“We welcome the U.N. report and the opportunity it provides to raise awareness and highlight the many challenges workers still face globally in exercising this fundamental right to freedom of association,” Carol Pier, deputy undersecretary for international labor affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, said in a statement. “Working to protect and promote workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively is a priority for the Department, at home and abroad.”

Currently on the U.N. agenda: a legally-binding human rights agreement for corporations and businesses.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on October 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.


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Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

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Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

Sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8th District) in the Senate and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th District) in the House, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights gives nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers and other domestic workers a minimum wage, protection from discrimination and sexual harassment and one day of rest every seven days for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week.

The law amends four other Illinois state laws—the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and the Wages of Women and Minors Act—to include domestic workers.

Over the past five years, the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition has campaigned to demand that domestic workers be provided with the same workplace protections that others have had for decades. Members gathered Tuesday at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago to celebrate.

“Finally, some of the hardest working people in the state of Illinois will receive the dignity and respect they deserve from their work environment,” said Rep. Hernandez.

Magdalena Zylinska, a domestic worker and board member of Arise Chicago, spoke about how demanding domestic work is.

“I have struggled to get by from low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job,” Zylinska said. “But today I am here to celebrate that our years of organizing have finally paid off.”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. While domestic workers have achieved victory in those states, the fight continues for a national bill of rights for domestic workers.

Worldwide, 90 percent of domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women—do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, according to the International Labour Organization. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of domestic workers are female, foreign born and/ or persons of color. They frequently lack protections and face near constant adversity.

“Women are an essential pillar of our society and our families, as you all have seen. The House listened to us. The Senate listened to us, and now the governor has listened to us,” said Maria Esther Bolaños, a domestic worker and leader from the Latino Union of Chicago.

She recalled days where she worked 12 hours and got paid just $12.00.

Grace Padao of AFIRE Chicago echoed Bolaños’ statements with struggles of her own, describing days of being isolated and alone in homes that were not her own, working seven days a week to provide for her family.

“From this day forward, domestic workers in Illinois will never have to face the conditions that I did,” Padao said.

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)

This article was originally posted at Inthesetimes.com on August 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Parker Asmann is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern at In These Times. He is an Editorial Board Member for the Chicago-based publication El BeiSMan as well as a regular contributor to The Yucatan Times located in Merida, Mexico. He graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with degrees in journalism and Spanish, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.

 


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Nannies And Housekeepers In Illinois Just Won A Major Victory

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Bryce CovertMagdalena Zylinska has been working in people’s homes for most of the last two decades since she came to the United States from Poland. She spent some time as a nanny and a caregiver, but since 1997, she’s been a full-time housekeeper.

But it wasn’t until she took classes with Arise Chicago, a worker organization, in 2013 that she realized how few protections she had on the job. Domestic workers across the country aren’t protected by basic workplace regulations like requirements that they be paid minimum wage, given days off, or be free from harassment.

She’d already had some brushes with these challenges. On one job cleaning up a house after a construction company came in and did work, she says the contractor refused to pay her $1,000 she was owed. “There were really no regulations,” she said, and it would have been too costly and complicated to go to court seeking her money. “It’s really not worth it for us to spend the time and money and taking days off to go after that.” On top of that, employers will regularly hire her for one set of duties at a particular rate and then pack on more and more responsibilities without more pay.

So three years ago, Zylinska decided to do something about it and get involved with the fight to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Illionis, similar to those on the books in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. She traveled to the state capitol in Springfield and even as far as Washington, D.C. in pursuit of expanded rights.

And this week she and her fellow domestic workers tasted victory. The bill of rights they had been trying to move forward passed the state’s Senate and has already passed the House, so it will soon head to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R) desk.

The bill, if it gets signed into law, will guarantee domestic workers — including housekeepers like Zylinska as well as nannies and home care workers — the right to make minimum wage, be paid for all hours they work, get one day off a week, and be protected from sexual harassment at work. A 2012 survey of domestic workers across the country found that a quarter were paid less than minimum wage, leaving many in tough financial circumstances — 20 percent had to go without food because they couldn’t afford any. A third said they worked long hours without breaks while 85 percent said they didn’t get overtime pay. And 20 percent said they have faced threats, insults, or verbal abuse. But nearly all of those who experienced problems at work didn’t complain for fear of risking their jobs.

It’s still unclear whether Rauner will sign the bill, and his office did not respond to a request for comment. But those at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who were also involved in fighting for the bill, are optimistic given that it unanimously passed the Senate with bipartisan support. “As an organization, we feel confident that the Governor will see the value of singing the bill into a law,” said a spokesperson for the organization.

Zylinska is also feeling confident. “I think they realize that domestic workers make all the work possible and they’re very crucial to the economy,” she said. “I just hope the governor really will see that it’s really necessary for us to be protected.”

“We only want to be recognized as domestic workers, workers that have basic protection,” she added. “All we want is respect.”

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on May 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.


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Domestic Workers Rights Bill Moves Forward in California

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R.M. ArrietaA Domestic Workers Rights bill is winding through California’s Capitol.

This week the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted in favor (5-2) of a domestic rights bill, but some tough concessions have been made, including the removal of vacation and sick day provisions from the bill.

One former domestic worker told KPFA: “In this labor committee hearing we lost vacation days, but we understand not all workers have paid vacation days. But we also earlier lost sick days, so most of the workers were going to use vacation days for sick days.”

Even so, the historic bill would provide some basic labor protections for the state’s estimated 200,000 domestic workers, which include nannies, caregivers and housekeepers.

Domestic workers, who are primarily immigrant women, are isolated and vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Workers are reluctant to complain to anyone about unfair pay, working more hours than they are paid, lack of breaks or sexual harassment, for fear of losing their jobs.

Many of the workers provide the main income in their families. According to a report released in 2007 “Behind Closed Doors,” 54 percent of the women interviewed were the main providers. In addition, 72 percent supported families in their country of origin.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would give these workers leverage to be treated fairly by creating guidelines for employers of domestic workers.

The bill, sponsored by Asssembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval and after that, to the full senate.

“We are making progress. It was a six-year project in New York State. Hopefully our bill will get to the governor’s desk,” said Quintin Mecke, Ammiano’s spokesman.

Just last year, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in New York.

Currently, domestic workers are excluded from all rights provided to all other California workers under Wage Order 15 — wage and hour protections.

“(The) committee vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” Ammiano said.

Historically, domestic workers have been exempted from laws that protect other workers and guarantee certain standards—such as fair wages, a safe and healthy workplaces, worker compensation, meal and rest breaks, overtime wages.

Said Jessica Lehman, employer of a personal attendant in her home and a member of Hand in Hand: Domestic Employer Association: “Employers have a vested self-interest in this campaign by working to support the (bill). We are investing in building communication and trust with workers who support some of the most intimate parts of our lives, providing home care to people with disabilities and elders, or caring for our children and our homes.”

The bill now goes to the fiscal committee, where it must also be approved before it goes to a final senate vote. It still needs to be signed into law by governor Jerry Brown, who recently vetoed a farm workers labor bill.

The domestic workers bill has received wide support from labor rights coalitions across the state.

There has been international attention to domestic workers rights as well. On June 16, the International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, passed a convention recognizing domestic work as “work.”

This blog originally appeared in These Times on July 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at [email protected]


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Milestone for World’s Domestic Workers

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Domestic workers Guillerma Castellanos and Juana Flores during the historic committee vote.

Image: Liz ShulerToday, at the International Labor Organization’s 100th annual conference in Geneva Switzerland, the global community took a major collective step towards achieving economic and social justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers with the overwhelming adoption of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and accompanying recommendation.

More than 80 percent of the world’s governments, workers and employers voted in favor of the convention’s adoption, with 90 percent supporting the accompanying recommendation. In practice the convention and recommendation set out basic minimum rights and protections to which domestic workers within countries that ratify the convention are legally entitled. Symbolically, however, these instruments achieve much more.

By shining a global spotlight on domestic work and the conditions in which it is carried out, this convention and recommendation make the invisible visible. Today, for the first time in history, the international community acknowledges that domestic work—work performed in or for private homes—is indeed work. Further, the people who perform this work—overwhelmingly women, migrants and people from historically marginalized communities—are indeed workers, and thus entitled to the same rights and protections all other workers enjoy.

In approximately 40 percent of the world’s nations, the simple recognition of domestic work as work and domestic workers as deserving the same rights and protections that other workers enjoy flies in the face of exclusionary national labor laws and social protection regimes. The United States, unfortunately, is one such country. Domestic workers are excluded, along with farm workers, from the protections afforded to other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act. Today the global community definitively declared that such exclusions undermine the basic human rights of domestic workers.

For domestic workers in the United States, the practical consequences of the passage of this convention and recommendation are not immediately clear. International law does not take effect in a country unless that nation’s government agrees to ratify the law, and the United States very rarely does so. Still, domestic workers in the United States regard the passage of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers convention and recommendation as a major victory. Juana Flores, U.S. worker delegate to the ILO and co-director of Programs at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (Women United and Active) in San Francisco explains its significance for domestic workers in the United States:

This convention strengthens the voice of domestic workers in the United States who continue to organize, mobilize and advocate for the full realization of our basic human rights. As we work to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California and other states, as we have in New York, we now know we have the support of both the U.S. government and the international community. Knowing this emboldens us and gives us strength to continue fighting for the protections and benefits we, like all workers, deserve.

The AFL-CIO is proud to stand with Juana and the millions of domestic workers both within and outside the United States who have fought for this day for generations. Just last month the AFL-CIO formed a historic partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to work together to advance the voices of all workers. Today as we celebrate this momentous accomplishment we look forward to continuing to work together to make the full fulfillment of the rights of domestic workers a reality.

As Toni Moore, worker delegate from Barbados, expressed so eloquently at the convention’s adoption, “the time is always right to do what’s right,” and “we must not let dignity delayed become dignity denied.” The workers of the world call on our governments to do what’s right and ratify and fully implement the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and Recommendation.

After the vote, the workers unfurled a banner that read “C189. Congratulations! And now for the “domestic work” of governments. RATIFY.” Check out the video here.

Read the Convention here and the ILO Recommendation here.

This blog originally appeared on Afl-cio Now Blog on June 16, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Auhtor: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.


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ILO Seeks Protections for Domestic Workers

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Image: Mike HallDomestic workers around the world play a crucial role in raising children, caring for the elderly and the infirm, and generally supporting those in need of household help. But these same workers are all too often exploited and have little recourse because they are largely excluded from the legal protections that safeguard almost all other workers.

This month at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual conference in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates will take a special look the plight of domestic workers and are expected to set a global standard outlining basic rights for domestic workers. The ILO is part of the United Nations.

In the opening statement for the United States at the first session of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers discussion, the Department of Labor’s Robert Shepard, said:

Domestic workers often work longer hours and receive less wages, while performing work that we can all agree involves a high level of responsibility.  Domestic workers are pillars of the modern service economy.  The majority of domestic workers are women and girls—oftentimes from predominantly migrant populations who work in isolated workplaces.  For these reasons domestic workers, and particularly for migrants and children, are vulnerable to many forms of exploitation, from nonpayment of wages to trafficking.

He noted that laws in many countries do not offer domestic workers the same kind of wage, working condition and other protections most workers enjoy. Even the ILO has not issued a global standard that offers these workers the promise of equal treatment. He urged the delegates to adopt a convention that would apply to all domestic workers. Shephard said the conventions should:

  • Ensure domestic workers have the same opportunity as other workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of  their work;
  • Include special provisions to prevent protect domestic workers from abuse, harassment, violence and trafficking;
  • Acknowledge that all parties must “respect, promote and realize . . . the fundamental principles and rights at work.”

Shephard also said employment agencies should be scrutinized. Many global employment agencies provide vital services for workers and employers, but:

We must be careful, however, that those intent on engaging in exploitive or abusive behavior toward domestic workers cannot hide behind the words “employment agency,” engaging in improper behavior while marring the good names of  real employment agencies.  And second, it is useful in this somewhat uncharted area to set down guidelines for the benefit of both the agencies and those they employ.

As Shephard told the delegates to the conference, which The conference runs through June 7:

We look forward, in the end, to all the governments, the workers, and the employers voting yes to equal treatment and voting “Yes” for justice.

Click here to learn more about the fight to win fairness for domestic workers around the globe.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on June 3, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.


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