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USA: "Everything is a workaround": Life in Obama's agencies as Congress does nothing

USA: "Everything is a workaround": Life in Obama's agencies as Congress does nothing

by IDWFED published Oct 13, 2015 12:00 AM
In the absence of new laws protecting workers, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has gotten creative.



Read the original article in full: ‘Everything is a workaround': Life in Obama’s agencies as Congress does nothing | The Washington Post


On Octorber 10, on the kind of fall day in Brooklyn that movies are made of, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez stepped onto a modern union shop floor — in this case a children’s playground — for a lesson in community organizing.

“If I don’t have a child with me, I introduce myself as a domestic worker,” says Allison Julien, a nanny who also represents the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a nonprofit aimed at improving working conditions for caregivers. The park is one of the few public places where nannies gather in public, where organizers can approach them. But many of the immigrant women are still skittish.

“Lots of undocumented workers want to be invisible,” explains Jennifer Bernard, another nanny-organizer, as kids whiz around on scooters underfoot. “They’re not going to talk to us if they’re in the presence of their employers.”

Perez watches quietly, introducing himself only as Tom, as staffers and Secret Service agents linger on the perimeter. He asks questions: What’s the most important quality in an organizer? (“Patience,” they answer.) When you meet someone, how do you gain their trust? (“Smile.”)

One woman beckons them over, pinned to her bench with a baby and its accoutrements, to ask what the small party is up to. When Julien and Bernard tell her, she describes an argument she was having with her employer, involving a missed text message and harsh words. “I said, 'You don’t talk to me like that,' ” the nanny on the bench said.

The organizers applauded her courage and asked for her phone number. Maybe she’ll come to a meeting sometime soon. “We’re all over, any time you need us!” Bernard said.

But later, meeting with Perez back in the basement of the Carroll Gardens Library, the organizers let their cheery veneer down. When the labor secretary asked what still frustrated them, they told him domestic workers still lacked protections under the law — and the enforcement to follow up.

“The situation seems the same,” Bernard says. "What are we really doing? Because it sickens me when we hear so many of these stories now.”

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“These stories are remarkable — but because of the failure to pay their workers a decent wage, these stories will never be told,” Perez says. “That really works to your disadvantage, because you have a chronic image problem. That’s a self-inflicted wound.”

The question, for Perez, is how to help scale those new worker organizations without the protective laws that first allowed the labor movement to flourish. “For every National Domestic Workers Alliance, there are far too many communities who don’t have Jennifer to speak for them,” he says, of the nanny organizers.

Right now, the labor secretary is just trying to make sure people know that options for collective action still exist — despite the lack of legal aids to help them out.

Photos: NY Domestic Workers' Coalition/FACEBOOK

Source: Lydia DePillis/The Washington Post

Story Type: News

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