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Activism & Hope: Domestic Workers Conference at Barnard

By June 30, 2009October 18th, 2009No Comments3 min read

Saira Toppin

“What do we want?” Justice!
“When do we want it?” Now!

Members of the audience shouted these statements periodically throughout the National Domestic Workers Alliance Conference at the Barnard Center for Research on Women. The conference was entitled, “Women and Work: Building Solidarity with America’s Vulnerable Workers.”

Over 200,000 women represent America’s domestic workers. They work in high rise buildings, houses, and vacation homes. They work for our country’s leaders, foreign diplomats, and your everyday American. They are nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers. On Monday evening, gathered in the Julius Held Auditorium at the Barnard Hall building, were members of Domestic Workers United (DWU), Casa de Maryland, and other organizations vying for Human Rights.

It is a sad truth that too many domestic workers end up working for employers who do not treat them fairly. They often work for more hours and sometimes for less pay than agreed upon. This share of workers does not receive health insurance, no paid sick days, and no holidays or paid vacations. They do not receive adequate overtime pay, and do not receive severance wages upon expulsion. These women deserve more for their work and should expect no less. They are a part of the working force just like you and I.

Activism & Hope

Activism & Hope

How can you and I help these women better their situation?

One way is to listen as I did at the Conference. Three panelists, Stela, Hermenia, and Pat told their stories and discussed how their respective organizations are trying to alleviate the situation.  Stela’s story was incredible. She recalled overhearing at a job, “We need a new dog in the house, because the one we have now is not happy anymore.” This was her employer speaking to another person. At first Stela thought, how could that be, the dog is happy, but she thought again and realized that her employer was talking about her. Stela broke into tears on the stage. After listening, I felt compelled to help support DWU.
Since the purpose of the Conference was to assist DWU pass the NY Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the best way to help is to push members of Congress to pass this bill. DWU began working on this bill in 2004 in order to protect the women who work behind closed doors and have no support. If passed, “The Bill will ensure domestic workers are provided a limited number of paid sick days, personal days, and vacation days; notice and severance pay; yearly raises tied to inflation; full overtime pay for any work over 40 hours per week; one day of rest per week; protection from employment discrimination; and health benefits (” DWU has sponsors in the Assembly, Senate, and other organizations. You can help by endorsing their campaign and/or getting involved through demonstrations and other efforts being put forth by DWU.