Ai-jen Poo

On Women’s Equality Day, ALL Lives Matter

Today, we join thousands of women across the country to commemorate the ratification in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Ending those restrictions created pathways for women to have a say in the decisions that shape our futures. A robust women’s movement moved Congress in 1971 to designate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The movement challenged Congress to make women’s equality a core American principle. It was the right thing to, not only for the sake of the equality, but for the good of our nation. The leadership and contributions of women were needed to enable, govern and secure the future.

Nearly 100 years later, we are still working towards democracy and equality for every woman—without restrictions based on race, class, age or experience. And we have some distance to travel.

Domestic Workers' Champ Envisions Win-Win Future

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--In July, Massachusetts became the fourth state after New York, California and Hawaii to pass a home care workers' bill of rights, which requires such things as unemployment insurance and overtime for workers.

That's all great news to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a network of nannies, housekeepers and caretakers of elderly people that has been working since 2007 to advance public awareness of the important role these workers play in society and to advocate for better work conditions.

In two question-and-answer sessions in late July with Women's eNews, Ai-jen Poo, the group's director, talked about the current state of caregiver work and the network's efforts.

Female domestic workers were recently guaranteed eight weeks of maternity leave under Massachusetts' Domestic Works Bill of Rights if they're full-time employees. Were you part of that effort? How important is this for the workers you represent?

Impending elder boom demands a higher-paid work force of caregivers

On its surface, the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Harris v. Quinn was about unions. But it's really about all of us, and the future we want for our country, particularly in light of the baby-boom generation reaching retirement age.

Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65 — that's one person every eight seconds. By the time you finish reading this piece, a dozen more people will have turned 65. The baby-boom generation is catalyzing an unprecedented "elder boom" in America. Nine out of 10 would prefer to age at home and in their communities instead of nursing homes, a profound shift that relies on the work of paid caregivers. As more and more elders and families seek the support they need, home-care work has become the fastest-growing occupation in the nation.

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.

Community-Wealth interview with Ai-jen Poo

Could you talk about your background?  How did you become involved in organizing domestic workers? 

Very early on I was interested in women’s issues probably because I am very much influenced by my mother and my grandmother. Starting in high school I was involved in the women’s forum and issues that affect low-income women. In New York City, while I was in college, I started to volunteer for the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. We were just starting a project to organize Asian immigrant women who were working in low-wage service jobs. At the time, a lot of the garment factories were starting to close down in New York City and the women who worked in those jobs started to move into service work, particularly care work—home care if they had their immigration documents; domestic work, restaurant women and beauty parlor work if they were undocumented.

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?’”

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