domestic workers bill of rights
Home care workers have our lives in their hands. They're paid only $10 an hour
Home care is expected to add more jobs than any other field in the coming years. Carers will look after us in old age – but do we care enough about them?
By Sarah Jaffe

“Some of her clients are bedridden, meaning she must bathe and change them, as well as bring food and water. But she says that the thing that many of them value the most is when she sits with them and listens to them talk about their lives. For Ramirez, it is meaningful work.

Still, the low wages (she is paid $11 an hour) and the sometimes harsh conditions led her to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her listening skills from years of care work have made her a natural organizer, a role in which she listens to the complaints of other home care workers and brings them into the organization.

One of those complaints in New York, she says, is that many home care workers moved into the field from other low-wage service work, hoping that it would be an improvement. But then Andrew Cuomo, the state governor, increased the minimum wage specifically for fast-food workers, pushing some care workers to consider returning to fast food.

Barrett first heard about domestic worker organizing when the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed, in 2010. Then, a year ago, she got a phone call from the Miami Workers Center, and they told her that they were organizing workers like her. When she went to the first assembly, she saw women wearing T-shirts that read “National Domestic Workers Alliance”.

“I can’t explain to you the joy that came to me,” she says of that first meeting. “I’ve always been involved with activism, but I didn’t want it to get involved with work, so I’ve kept my politics, including my queerness, quiet.”

But after the assembly, she says, “I was on fire”. She called her current clients’ daughter, technically her boss, and asked to meet her and her father. In that meeting, she says, she told them that she was going to be a part of the domestic workers’ movement. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but if this movement needs me then I’m going to be there. If you want, you can fire me, but please give me two weeks’ notice so I can get another job.”

Carnival for Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Come join us at a Carnival for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights!  This carnival is special because it is designed and created by Professor Glenn Omatsu’s Spring 2012 UCLA Asian American Studies class.  The students have used their creative thinking and talents to create games and fun activities that revolve around the 4 main important guiding principles that Professor Omatsu heavily emphasizes on for his students.  They are:

1) Need for students to learn from the creative approaches to teaching and learning eveloped by immigrant workers, especially through worker centers

2) Need for students to embrace the tradition of “militant humility” developed by immigrant workers and understand how they use this quality to build our commuities and fight for justice

3) Need for students to emulate immigrant workers by using their talents to serve our communities

4) Need for students to unite with immigrant workers to create a powerful alliance to change our communities.  

Students incorporate these 4 guiding principles by using fun activities as a medium for people to learn and become aware about the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.  I, a student at UCLA and an intern at KIWA, am part of this fortunate class.  The class is segmented into different groups, in which each group comes up with an activity.  My group came up with an art activity of friendship bracelets.  

Friendship bracelets not only signifies a bond among a close knit of people, but it also signifies the hard work and patience it takes to create these bracelets.  Similar to domestic workers, who are comprised of mainly women of color, we work very hard in making these bracelets.  We tie several knots repeatedly to reach the end goal of making a bracelet, but getting there is not so easy or fast.  Along the lengthy process of making these small knots, they may not seem like a bracelet.   We may not recognize that these knots can end up becoming a bracelet.  Like making these bracelets, domestic workers provide so much important work for our society such as cleaning, taking care of children, doing household errands, and etc.  They basically take part in jobs that enables our society to function, yet they don’t gain the recognition or the protection they deserve. Thus, the process of making these friendship bracelets are like a metaphor of domestic workers, and my group hoped to get that message across when people come to our booth.  Domestic workers need to finally stop being invisible and gain the recognition that they deserve.