The National Domestic Workers Alliance is fighting for domestic workers’ rights in a care industry long ignored by U.S. labor law.
From Fight for 15 to SeaTac, Americans seem ready for a higher minimum wage. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the current minimum wage is so low that it wouldn’t keep a family of two out of poverty. But even if it reached $10 or $15, millions of working Americans and their families wouldn’t see another penny. That’s because they work as temps, farm workers, or home care aids—industries not covered by much of U.S. labor law.
But that’s starting to change. After a series of local and nationwide campaigns led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), domestic workers—overwhelmingly women of color—are finally starting to enjoy basic labor protections. Last year California and Hawaii became the second and third U.S. states to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (New York was the first, after a spirited NDWA struggle there prevailed in 2010). The bills ensure minimum wage and overtime protections for thousands of domestic workers—laws unprecedented in American history. Then in September the Labor Department extended similar protections to as many as two million home health workers. And that’s just the beginning: with affiliates in more than two dozen cities nationwide, the NDWA is already pushing for Bills of Rights in five more states, from Massachusetts to Oregon.
How’s the NDWA doing it? One of the biggest lessons from their struggle is casting a wide net, says Amy B. Dean in Yes! Magazine (Oct. 9, 2013). In campaigns across the country, the group partners not only with national unions like AFSCME and SEIU, but also with faith-based groups like Bend the Arc and nonprofits like the National Council on Aging. The alliances ensure the NDWA’s struggle is not just about domestic workers themselves, but also about creating a just and accessible care industry. And even while empowering workers on the job, NDWA reaches out to sympathetic employers to raise wages and improve working conditions. “When it comes to human dignity,” says NDWA director Ai-Jen Poo, “there is no such thing as an unlikely ally.”