Ai-jen Poo

Home Care Workers Rely on Unions, and We Rely on Them

Union membership ensures the wellbeing of home care workers and those they care for. By endorsing de-unionization, the Wall Street Journal belittles the support caregivers provide our loved ones everyday.

All of us, at some point in our lives, will need care. The vast majority of us - 90 percent in fact - will want to stay at home for as long as possible. Home care workers make this happen. They provide the critical medical care and assistance with day-to-day activities that allow our parents and grandparents to age at home with dignity.

Many home care workers though, by the very nature of their job, are socially isolated. Most earn poverty wages with a median annual pay of less than $21,000. They often work long hours, perform hard physical labor, and have little to no benefits that allow them to plan and save for their own future and potential long-term care needs. Working in the shadows like this, often with little job security and vulnerable to exploitation, are exactly when unions are so important.

Letter to Governor Brown in opposition to proposed In-Home Services and Supports (IHSS) hours cap

May 12, 2014

Dear Speaker Pérez, Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg, Speaker-Elect Atkins, and Pro Tem-Elect de León:

I am writing to express NDWA's opposition to Governor Brown’s proposal to cap hours for personal assistants in the In-Home Services and Supports (IHSS) program at no more than 40 hours per week. This cap undermines the implementation of the new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations, and hurts seniors, people with disabilities, the workers that support them, and their families. We urge the legislature to enact sound fiscal policy by rejecting the Governor’s proposal and appropriating sufficient funds to pay overtime compensation to IHSS workers.

Hire Power: Ai-jen Poo is Fighting to Give Millions of Women a Fair Deal

EXCLUDED FROM many of the protections provided under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an estimated 800,000 to 2 million domestic workers in the U.S. face tremendous exploitation. Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, is changing the tide for this 95 percent female workforce. Having celebrated legislative victories in New York, Hawaii, and California, Poo spoke to Marie Claire about what's next.

MARIE CLAIRE: What is your personal connection to this cause?

AI-JEN POO: My grandmother, who is 87, is able to have a vibrant life because a caregiver named Mrs. Sun supports her. Her work makes so much possible for our family, and I think the more we value people like Mrs. Sun, the healthier our society will be.

Read the whole interview at marieclaire.com »

Activists to Watch: Ai-jen Poo

NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo was recently named one of 19 Young Activists Changing America by Moyers & Company

Like farmworkers, most of America’s 2.5 million domestic workers — nannies, housekeepers and caregivers — are not covered by federal wage, overtime, organizing and other labor laws. Many toil 12 to 15 hours per day and are paid less than $200 a week. So, it was a major milestone when New York state passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. At least 200,000 domestic employees, mostly immigrants, are now entitled to a 40-hour workweek with overtime pay, one day of rest per week and three days of paid time off after a year of employment. The law protects them against sexual harassment and entitles them to temporary disability benefits and unemployment insurance.

Caregiver embodies MLK’s dream for the nation

Marlene Champion first showed up in the basement of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York sometime in 2000, at the first meetings of what would become Domestic Workers United.

Then, she kept showing up, often waking at 4 a.m. to cook Bajan food for the meetings: jerk chicken, oxtails, macaroni pie. She reminded everyone that being treated with respect starts with acting as though you are worthy of respect. There is something regal about Marlene that instinctively brings out the best in everyone around her — whether that’s a toddler in her care, a fellow domestic worker or me.

Despite the respect she shows everyone in her life, she describes the brutal indignity she and other domestic workers are regularly dealt: “I think that some people still think that slavery is still OK. A lot of people look down their noses at us. They don’t think of our work as real work: They think of housework and caregiving differently. Even some of your own friends and family. One time when I was at a job, someone said to me ‘you call that working?’”

The Caring Majority: Building a Coalition Around Domestic Workers’ Rights

At least 800,000 women go to work in other people’s homes each day in the United States, serving as nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers for our elders and loved ones with disabilities. By caring for children and offering the aging both emotional support and assistance with the basic activities of daily life, they enable the recipients of their care to lead full and dignified lives. And by taking care of others’ families and homes, these women make it possible for their employers to go to work every day. If domestic workers went on strike, they could paralyze almost every industry. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors, small business owners, civil sector employees, and media executives would all be affected. The entire economy would tremble.

Two Recent Victories Provide Path Out of Poverty for Women Workers

Myrla Baldanado, a member of the Chicago Household Workers Coalition, cared for more than 20 seniors in her time as a caregiver. She worked 80-90 hours per week, bathing, cooking, feeding, lifting, preparing medication, checking vital signs, housekeeping and communicating with the families of her patients. For this work, she was paid an average of $4.58 per hour. “I could hardly pay my room rental of $300 per month. I have four children. I am diabetic. I was living on poverty wages.” She describes eating mostly eggs and bananas in order to stretch her budget. She also faced verbal abuse in the workplace.

On September 17, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez released regulations that will change minimum wage and overtime regulations to cover nearly two million home care and other direct care workers. This workforce is 90 percent women, and approximately half people of color. For decades these workers have been categorized as “companions,” on which basis they were excluded from protections. As a result of the changed regulations, working women like Myrla will have a path out of poverty.

Brought to the US to teach; Working as a Domestic to pay off debts: Why California Needs to Pass AB 241

The International Domestic Workers' Network (IDWN) was formed in 2006 to work for basic rights and protections for those who clean homes, care for the sick and look after the elderly and the young in homes around the globe. In 2011, this international coalition of domestic workers' groups helped pass the first-ever International Labor Organization Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C. 189) which has since been ratified by 11 countries. In recognition of this achievement the AFL-CIO presented its 2013 George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to the IDWN at the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention. It was the first time a delegation of domestic workers had ever been invited to participate in the annual convention.

Domestic worker Lourdes Balagot-Pablo and Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in the US, spoke with GRITtv soon after the award ceremony in Los Angeles.

Why we're risking arrest over immigration

NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo and Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, were both arrested yesterday, participating with over 100 other women in an act of civil disobedience to support immigration reform that treats women fairly. They wrote this op-ed for CNN.com.

(CNN) -- On Thursday, we will link arms with more than 100 women and claim the street outside the House of Representatives. We will not move until the House recognizes that women and children are at the heart of the immigration debate, and reform must treat them fairly.

Women and children constitute three-quarters of all immigrants to the United States, but the debate about immigration reform -- which has stalled in the House -- has largely ignored the disproportionate burden they bear in a system that is failing.

Immigrant women make outsize contributions to our families, communities and country.

Read the full op-ed at CNN.com »

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