Ai-jen Poo

Whose feminism is this?

For the past 20 years, I have worked with domestic workers and caregivers to bring dignity and respect to the work of raising children, maintaining households and caring for the elderly. This is the family care work that has historically been shouldered by women — paid and unpaid.

For the millions of women who work as professional caregivers and domestic workers today, feminism isn’t an intellectual exercise. It is a practical matter, with real life implications — like whether they have equal protection under law; whether their wages are enough to pay the bills and raise their children; or whether their jobs offer the basic dignity of being considered work in our society.

Transforming Pain Into Power

I landed in Phoenix, Arizona, just four days before the election. The last time I had been in Arizona was six years ago, after the passage of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant state legislation that legalized racial profiling. I had organized a group of women from all over the country to hear and document the stories of the women impacted by the new legislation. We quickly learned that there was a leading villain in the story, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who apparently spent his days and nights imagining new ways to make life unbearable for immigrants. His deputies drove military tanks through residential neighborhoods, raided the homes of immigrant families in the middle of the night, and arrested parents in front of their children. His terror tactics laid the groundwork for the hate legislation that would haunt a generation.

#31Days of Feminism: Ai-jen Poo

What do you love the most about the work you do?

Every day, I hear the stories of women who spend their days caring for others. I hear about the challenges of the work, along with the joys. Their courage and leadership in addressing the challenges has made history time and time again — whether it's passing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, or gaining inclusion in minimum wage and overtime laws, or establishing the first mindfulness training for domestic workers. It gives me hope that we can collectively create the future that we need — with good jobs, access to affordable, quality care and a democracy that's fully inclusive of even the least visible among us.

What is feminism to you?

To me, feminism is action that is grounded in the belief that every person is equally and fully human and valuable. It also includes creating a world where all work — like the work of caring for families — is truly recognized, accounted for, valued, and protected. The feminist vision of the world is one where people bring the best of who they are to the table and try to nurture that in each other.

The Values Revolution: Embedding Empathy in the New Economy

Much has been written about how our economy is changing, particularly in light of the digital revolution. This economy is defined by entirely new ways of organizing and working together, by an energizing sense of possibility, and by a seemingly insatiable thirst for problem solving.

But a central question remains: problem-solving for and with whom? How will the new economy engage and support the least visible among us? Now that we're living in the era of tech-enabled scale and efficiency, it's time to elevate empathy and equity if we hope to shape a more caring economy that works for all of us.

These questions remind me of many of the people I meet in my work to bring recognition and basic labor protections to domestic workers around the United States. People like Erlinda, who cares for the elderly in Chicago. Erlinda became a caregiver when she arrived to this country, remembering the fulfillment of caring for the elders in her community in the Philippines. At our first meeting, she shared a story about a client she referred to as "my lady."

I am (wo)man

Across the world, 53 million people, over 80 per cent of them women, are employed as domestic workers. Their work helps economies grow, advances the participation of women in the workplace and provides crucial care for millions of dependents. Every day they cook, clean, look after the elderly, help children with homework, performing vital roles in keeping households and communities running.

“Domestic work makes all other work possible,” says Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a national membership body made up of domestic worker groups across the United States.

“Domestic workers have always been critical to the functioning of national economies, but they are now absolutely critical to the growth of our global economy.”

Yet as a workforce, these millions of women remain largely invisible. In many countries, domestic workers remain excluded from national labour laws. This leaves domestic workers open to abuse and exploitation and unable to demand safe and protected workplaces.

Give Elders and Their Caregivers the Support They Deserve

Every day, at least 10,000 Americans turn 65. When we imagine the future, most of us envision ourselves living life on our own terms, in our homes and communities, connected to the people we love, even as we become more frail. As Atul Gawande, Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencer of the Year, so eloquently put it, we want to continue to be “the authors of our own stories” as we age.

Yet, most of us don’t have a plan to make that happen, and we as a nation don’t have a plan, either. Our family caregivers are overstretched and our care workforce is underpaid; both are undervalued. Families are pushed into poverty to pay for care. What we have in place simply isn’t sufficient to meet the growing need for care and supportive services in our country.

A New System

Living well in the future will require a fundamental change in our nation’s approach to caregiving. We need a system that supports caregivers, incentivizes professional caregivers to join and stay in the care workforce and helps us all afford the quality care we deserve.

Working-Class Voters Hold Key to 2016

To win in 2016, candidates in both parties must capture working class voters of all stripes.

Presidential candidates from both parties are tossing around ideas about how to help everyday working Americans.

But something’s missing. Strongmen on the right are speaking almost exclusively to white, working-class voters, stoking populist resentment toward people of color—both immigrants and African Americans. Progressives, for their part, are calling for better wages and quality of life across the board, including for those vilified on the right.

To win in 2016 and beyond, candidates must reach out to both groups; they must speak to all working people. Those who focus exclusively on one group or the other will undermine their chances of winning the White House.

Homecare workers left out of minimum wage, OT protections

Most people think that the right to earn the minimum wage, like child labor laws, is a given throughout our economy. But there’s an entire workforce that’s been left out — and it’s the second-fastest growing occupation in our nation. 

I’m referring to the two million homecare workers in our country today, who continue to be excluded from not only the right to minimum wage, but also overtime and basic protections that most of us take for granted.  

Read the whole article at »

Roll Back Low Wages: 9 Stories of New Labor Organizing in the United States

In this study, labor journalist Sarah Jaffe, whose writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Nation, and In These Times and who works as co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast, examines this series of low-wage workers’ movements that has gained strength in recent years for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Including fast food strikes and the fight for a $15 minimum wage; retail, grocery store, restaurant, and taxi workers; Carwasheros, domestic and home care workers, and those living in the U.S. under guestworker visas; Jaffe explores how these movements overlap and connect.

Jaffe explores the impact that low-wage workers’ movements are playing in revitalizing labor, and indeed much of the left, creating alliances and waging offensive battles at a time when too much of the progressive community has been stuck playing defense. They are doing everything they can to ensure that the defeat of precarity, and not its continuance, will be the most important trend in the U.S economy in the years to come.

Click on the link below to download a pdf of the study.

With New Protections Tied Up in the Courts, Home Health Care Workers Aren't Waiting Around

Almost two years after the Obama administration extended historic labor protections to the nation’s 1.79 million home healthcare workers, those new rights remain in limbo. In September 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced plans to amend a longstanding regulation that has excluded them from earning the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, and compensation for travel on the job. For home healthcare workers in the United States—a group that is nearly 90 percent female—this move marked a significant step towards setting a floor of decent labor standards.

But the rule-change, which was set to go into effect on January 1st, now faces a challenge in federal court, and critics say state legislators are using the ongoing litigation as an excuse to avoid implementing the new protections. At the same time, given that most home healthcare workers are paid through Medicaid and Medicare—two underfunded public programs—many also worry that states will respond to the rule-change by curtailing consumers’ access to quality care. Activists across the country are working to pressure their lawmakers to reckon with these new standards and avoid potential calamity. . . .