Ai-jen Poo

An Invisible Workforce: Home Care Workers Are Highly Valued but Overworked and Underpaid

Baby boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day, and because of advances in medicine, the elderly population is booming. Often these groups need help from home care workers -- an unregulated workforce that is often poorly paid and works inconsistent hours. 

A two-day summit in St. Louis starting Oct. 6 -- Caring Across Generations -- will for the first time bring domestic and home care workers together to find ways to professionalize their workforce with better pay and conditions, as their work becomes increasingly called on over the next decade.

Latin Post recently spoke to Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and lead organizer and founder of Domestic Workers United, an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers and elderly caregivers in New York. And Ai-jen Poo is also the recipient of a 2014 MacArthur "Genius" Award and organizer of the Caring Across Generations summit.

America's most invisible workforce is the one we need the most

I started organizing domestic workers 16 years ago. I signed up nannies, housekeepers and home health aides at parks and train stations as they quietly took care of our children, our households and our elders. Many of them had no clue about labor laws or their rights as workers – they struggled to make ends meet with extremely low pay and no benefits – but they performed their jobs with dedication and took care of our loved ones with pride, dignity and grace.

I found all those years ago that building a bright future for these workers depended on how America valued the care they provided us. In my work, care has emerged as the connective tissue to encompass all identities and enable us to transcend to the level of values and ethics. We must become a nation that values care, a caring America. Because each one of us is connected to care. Because we still largely ignore the needs of those nannies, housekeepers and aides who care for us.

A Capstone in a Career Spent Fighting for the Rights of Domestic Workers

Ai-jen Poo jumped into a taxi after her flight from Chicago touched down at La Guardia Airport last week, hurtling straight into Manhattan for four days of back-to-back meetings devoted to improving the lives of domestic workers.

Soon, she was hammering out strategies to help expand access to health care for undocumented immigrants. She was planning a state-by-state legislative push to provide tax credits to people who pay living wages to home health care aides. She was discussing potential pathways to legal status for millions of foreign-born nannies, babysitters and housekeepers.

All the while, Ms. Poo managed to keep her secret. No one knew. Not her staff, not her donors and not her partners at other nonprofit organizations.

“I felt like a pipe that was going to burst,” recalled Ms. Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the advocacy group based in New York that represents 43 affiliates in 26 cities across the country.

MacArthur fellow Ai-jen Poo on why she fights for the rights of domestic workers

As a freshly-minted Columbia University graduate, Ai-jen Poo had no time to waste.  For years she had been volunteering in a shelter helping battered women who were seeking protection from abusive situations. Now she had time to expand her efforts, and she began a campaign to organize the city’s thousands of domestic workers, many of whom were immigrants with little understanding of the U.S. legal system and its labor protection laws. Many worked long hours at low pay, with no sick time, vacation days or health benefits; many were trapped because they had nowhere else to go.

Poo sought out these women in city parks, neighborhood playgrounds and church basements.  It took years, but eventually enough women had joined forces to create a union with real power. In 2000, after a seven-year effort, Poo co-founded Domestic Workers United and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. In 2010, Time magazine named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Read more at »

NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo Awarded MacArthur Fellowship

The MacArthur Foundation announced this morning that NDWA Director and Caring Across Generations Co-Director Ai-jen Poo was selected as one of the MacArthur Fellows Class of 2014.

A message from Ai-jen:

I am so honored to be among the Class of 2014 MacArthur Fellows.  I am humbled to see my name among visionaries whose work is transforming our world.

The award is a direct reflection of dynamism and impact of the thousands of domestic workers and caring people whose courage and dedication have built our movement to achieve a more caring world for workers, women, and families.  It’s everything you do to reveal the caring majority in this country, that is the true genius.

More coverage in:

Burning the Candle at Both Ends: A Reflection on Work in America

Zachary Norris is Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Ai-jen Poo is Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Earlier this week we celebrated Labor Day, which was established to celebrate workers and their contributions to the strength and prosperity of the country. We celebrate teachers, nurses, restaurant workers, firefighters, and domestic workers, among innumerable other roles that exist to serve and protect all of us. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when carried out with the intention of uplifting humanity, every one of these jobs has dignity.

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.