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USA: Scenes From Domestic Worker Organizing

USA: Scenes From Domestic Worker Organizing

by IDWFED published Jun 29, 2015 12:00 AM
Contributors: Rucha Chitnis, Reimagine!
"I am a home care worker, and I save lives. So why am I paid poverty wages?"



Read the original article in full: Scenes From Domestic Worker Organizing | Truth Out


Collective Leadership and Movement Building 

"I am a home care worker, and I save lives. So why am I paid poverty wages?" LaTanya Cline demanded of an ebullient crowd of domestic workers, unionists and their families at the Justice for Homecare Tribunal in Sacramento. In March 2015, more than 200 members of the California Domestic Workers Coalition traveled to the state capital to demand a living wage, overtime pay and dignity for homecare workers and workers who take care of seniors and people with disabilities.

The coalition's contingent included several worker-organizers from Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), a powerful grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women in the Bay Area. MUA members are raising their voices and asserting their leadership to demand dignity, safety and recognition of the vital services they provide as housekeepers, nannies and caregivers.

Domestic Work Is Invisible Work

"There is an entrenched devaluation of immigrant women workers. Domestic workers are breadwinners of their families throughout Latin America and Asia. In so many ways they are uplifting the economies of their countries through remittances," said Katie Joaquin, campaign director of the California Domestic Workers Coalition. "We see this as an international struggle that is critical to the leadership of women," she said.

There are nearly two million domestic workers in the United States, more than 90 percent of them women, mostly low-income immigrant women from diverse ethnicities. Over the past 25 years, MUA has built a worker-center model of sharing power and harnessing workers' collective bargaining rights. MUA builds the personal and collective leadership, and power of immigrant Latina women, many undocumented, who are disproportionately affected by economic and political marginalization, racism and violence. MUA also works to create safe pathways to citizenship, preventing deportation of immigrant women and their families.

"I Learned That I Have Value."

MUA is rooted in the belief that every woman who walks through its door is a leader. The leadership program is designed to ensure the self-determination of women at home, and through policies which are being shaped by rigorous organizing by domestic workers from coast to coast in the United States. "For the first time I learned that I have value," said Lupe Zamuldio, an undocumented worker from Mexico who recently completed MUA's leadership training. "All my life, I walked with my head down. I didn't know about my rights as an immigrant worker. Today I walk tall and realize that I have value in the society as well."

Claudia Reyes, MUA's lead organizer for workers' rights, explained that this program also offers a place for women to talk about the various traumas they have experienced and begin the process of healing in a safe space of sisterhood. Issues of racism, patriarchy, legal and economic rights are also part of the leadership curriculum. Many members have survived domestic violence, including MUA's resilient co-director, Juana Flores, and receive counseling and advice from certified domestic violence advocates and sexual assault crisis counselors. 

Claudia's mother, Maria Huerta Reyes, is an iconic elder in the space - a former domestic worker who joined MUA nearly 17 years ago, and became a powerful advocate for the rights of immigrant women. Maria has recruited hundreds of women to join MUA, participated in hunger strikes for immigrant rights, traveled countless times to Sacramento to organize for the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and served as president of MUA's board of directors. Maria's leadership journey has inspired and energized other domestic workers, and this year she was honored with a special "movement leader" recognition at MUA's 25th Anniversary Celebrations in San Francisco.

The Future of California's Domestic Workers

In 2013, MUA members played a key role in winning the passage of the historic California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (AB 241), after an eight-year process of movement- and coalition-building. This significant legislative victory extends overtime protections to women who care for and support hundreds of thousands of individuals and families in California. MUA and its allies at the California Domestic Workers Coalition are now gearing up to introduce a 2016 bill to make these protections permanent; provisions of the bill passed in 2013 are due to expire in 2017. 

"There is tremendous strength to link with other organizations. We knew that in order to win, we had to be grounded in the leadership of immigrant women and build the strength of coalitions. A lot of worker organizations have worked hard to shift the visibility and consciousness of domestic work… and the Bill, and the organizing of immigrant women also helped to shift the consciousness of policymakers," said Katie Joaquin.

Source: Rucha Chitnis, Reimagine!

Story Type: News

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