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USA: Health, safety and justice - "Domestic workers have to build power"

USA: Health, safety and justice - "Domestic workers have to build power"

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by IDWFED published May 26, 2015 12:00 AM
As of late spring, more than 60 domestic workers had participated in the Arise training and received a certificate of completion, said Jakubek, who’s now working with her partners to develop a health and safety train-the-trainer curriculum. The completion certificate states that the worker has participated in health, safety and green cleaning training and is designed to help domestic workers market their services and secure fair employment.

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Chicago organizers take on domestic worker health and safety: "We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect" | ScienceBlogs

Excerpt:

When Zylinska, 43, cleans residences in the metropolitan Chicago area five days a week, heard an advertisement on Polish-language radio about a free training course specifically designed for domestic workers on occupational health and safety as well as green cleaning, she jumped at the chance. In late 2013, she took the training course and received a certificate of completion that she hopes to use in marketing her services. During the weekend-long training course, Zylinska and her fellow domestic workers also learned about their rights under wage and labor laws and how to negotiate a contract with a client.

The course Zylinska took was developed and organized by Arise Chicago, a local worker center that partners with faith communities to fight for worker justice and is one of many efforts across the country bringing much-needed health and safety training to domestic workers.

“We don’t really know what our rights are,” Zylinska told me. “We come from a different country, we don’t know what’s expected of us — a lot of (employers) will use that against us. …I wish more people could take this course.”

About four years ago, Arise Chicago began reaching out to domestic workers, but found that the isolating nature of the industry made it difficult to bring workers together, said Ania Jakubek, domestic worker organizer at Arise. Fortunately, Jakubek and her colleagues began making some real inroads after recruiting workers to participate in the first national survey of domestic workers, which was conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and findings from which were released in 2012. The experience solidified the need to organize Chicago’s domestic workers, Jakubek said, and so advocates began talking with workers about their personal and professional needs. Formal training and education quickly rose to the top.

“They wanted education related to their work,” Jakubek told me. “They said they didn’t feel like professionals and felt like they were undervalued.”

In turn, Jakubek partnered with researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health to develop a domestic worker health and safety curriculum that includes education on labor and wage rights. (Jakubek noted that Arise first tried organizing a know-your-rights training for domestic workers, but it wasn’t a great success. When the focus switched to health and safety, however, worker interest rose markedly.) The final training curriculum focuses on three main topic areas — chemical hazards and green cleaning, ergonomics and how to deal with work-related stress — and includes education in domestic worker rights and how to negotiate a contract. The curriculum, which draws inspiration from a guidebook developed at Berkeley’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, addresses many of the specific risks and conditions uncovered in the NDWA survey and report, “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”

 

Veronica Avila, workforce development director at NDWA, said because most domestic workers are excluded from labor law protections and don’t receive proper health and safety training, worker centers such as Arise play a hugely important role. She said the alliance is currently working on creating an inclusive curriculum that can be easily adopted by worker groups nationwide, with the ultimate goal that comprehensive training will lead to increased negotiating power among domestic workers as well as higher wages.

“The home is a workplace that has real implications for the health and safety of workers,” said Avila, who noted that health and safety protections are a central piece of the alliance’s push for stronger legislative protections, such as the California Bill of Rights that went into effect last year.

“It’s really about having an impact on the day-to-day life of workers.”

Arise isn’t the only Chicago worker center reaching out to domestic workers with education and training. Last year at Latino Union of Chicago, organizers trained more than 100 domestic workers in the span of four months — it was the union’s first such health and safety training for domestic workers. Building off a longtime partnership between the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Education and Research Center and the Latino Union, the center brought on an intern — industrial hygiene student Sheila M. Serrano-Serrano from the University of Puerto Rico — to develop a domestic worker health and safety curriculum. During focus groups with domestic workers, Serrano-Serrano found that even among workers who did not report a work-related injury, 75 percent still experienced pain after completing a work task.

Like the Arise curriculum, the Latino Union curriculum, which is delivered in English and Spanish, covers ergonomics, chemical hazards, hands-on green cleaning training, stress relief, labor rights and employer negotiations. Participants are offered contract templates and receive a certificate upon completion.

But unlike more traditional health and safety training, the Latino Union curriculum kicks off with a discussion on the history of women workers and their many accomplishments, said Joe Zanoni, director of continuing education and outreach at the university center. This year, Zanoni said organizers are now offering domestic workers CPR training as well — a skill that domestic workers had specifically requested.

“We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect,” Zanoni told me. “We offer some ideas, (the workers) offer some ideas and hopefully we can start a conversation in which workers can support each other. We want health and safety to be a natural part of their lives.”

To learn more about domestic worker health and safety, visit NDWA, the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers and Arise Chicago.

Source: Kim Krisberg/ScienceBlogs

Story Type: News

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