Standing Up For Democracy: How Activists Are Fighting Injustice in America Today
Continued from previous page
BILL MOYERS: So what about people you work with? Are they members of organized unions?
AI-JEN POO: You know, what's interesting is that domestic workers are actually excluded from the federal labor law that gives workers the right to organize and form unions.
BILL MOYERS: How did that happen?
AI-JEN POO: When the New Deal was being negotiated the only way that Southern members of Congress would agree to support the labor laws that were part of the New Deal package is if African American-- well, at the time, farm workers and domestic workers were excluded from the right to organize from the National Labor Relations Act. And at the time, those workers were African American. So it was an attempt to be able to prevent African American workers from being able to build power and build a political voice through organizing.
And so those exclusions remain to this day in the books, and they shape the lives of over two and a half million women who work as domestic workers every day, who are excluded from labor laws, excluded from protections. And their work is still undervalued and not respected.
BILL MOYERS: So what are they up against, day by day?
AI-JEN POO: Well, you know, I can give you a story of a member of ours named Maria, who worked for a family in Queens. She worked six days a week--
BILL MOYERS: Here in New York City.
AI-JEN POO: Here in New York. She was live in. And she took care of a child with a disability and did all of the cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing for a family of six. So 16 hours a day, six days a week. And she lived-- her sleeping quarters were in the basement, where there was an overflowing sewage system. So she literally had to put down cardboard to get to her bed at night.
And for all of that work, she earned less than $3 per hour. And so there are just incredible violations. And not every domestic worker is in that situation. But every worker is vulnerable. These exclusions have made it such that every single worker is vulnerable. And you never know what you're going to get.
BILL MOYERS: What happened to Maria?
AI-JEN POO: Maria picked up a Spanish-language newspaper that had an article about another worker, who had been in an abusive situation and had sought help at an organization called Domestic Workers United, our New York affiliate here. And so she called and she came to the office. And the organization helped her pursue her unpaid wages. In addition, she became one of the spokespeople for the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Campaign. Where hundreds and hundreds of workers took days off from work, like Maria, went up to Albany time and time again. We had one member, Angelica, who said, when the governor finally signed the legislation, she said, "Wow, I think I went to Albany more than 30 times to tell my story."
BILL MOYERS: It took you six years to win that, didn't it?
AI-JEN POO: It sure did. The purpose of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York is to establish labor protections, basic rights and protections for the over 200,000 women who do domestic work in New York.
BILL MOYERS: How many?
AI-JEN POO: Over 200,000. Every-- we often ask people to imagine what New York would look like if one day all domestic workers didn't go to work. And we think that there's not a single professional sector, workforce that wouldn't be touched in some way by it. It really is the invisible engine behind everything else in New York.