Domestic workers

The invisible workforce: the impact of injustice on black domestic workers

National Alliance of Domestic Workers

Lydia N* was a home health aide in Massachusetts, where she cared for others and assisted them with their daily routines. It’s a job she loves and has been doing for nearly 14 years.

When the coronavirus pandemic caused a global shutdown, Lydia went from worrying about others to wondering how she could take care of herself or her family if she got sick at work from the virus.

“As a domestic worker, I don’t have many things that other workers can have. I don’t have health insurance because of my status. I can’t afford to get sick. I don’t have many of those protections…it’s a common thing, especially if you’re undocumented,” she told ESSENCE. “Even those who are documented, they often don’t have health insurance, sick days, or time off, but we all need those things,” she added.

She also has no paid time off and often had to provide her own personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for elderly patients during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As An undocumented Ugandan immigrant, Lydia was unable to apply for any form of government assistance, even when she lost her job and was out of work for nearly a year. These problems she faces as a domestic worker didn’t start with the pandemic and goes way beyond that.

Even before the pandemic, most domestic workers had no health care or other benefits. They were largely unprotected by labor laws, and the most vulnerable among them – black immigrant domestic workers – were often unable to access the resources on offer to help individuals and families survive job loss, illness, possible eviction and hunger.

Lydia N speaks at an NWDA advocacy event.

Lydia is just one of the most 2.2 million domestic workers across the country whose roles as personal caregivers, nannies and housekeepers/housekeepers are vital to the economy. This industry is disproportionately made up of women of color and immigrants. Their jobs help make work possible for people who have to work away from home.

However, the challenges black domestic workers have faced as essential workers before and during the pandemic have often gone unnoticed.

“Our work is not valued and many of us, including undocumented immigrants, work in jobs that make it easier for others to work. But during the pandemic, we were the ones who had the hardest time,” she said.

A new report by The National Alliance of Domestic Workers (NWDA), We Dream In Black program and The Institute of Political Studies (IPS) examines the year-long impact of COVID-19 on black domestic workers like Lydia, who have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“What we often say is that you can really take the pulse of the workforce when you look at domestic workers,” NDWA executive director Jen Stowe told ESSENCE.

“I think because we know how marginalization works in this country, we know how oppression works and the intersections of oppression, it just makes sense to look at black immigrant domestic workers in order to really understand the terrain. on the lack of healthcare infrastructure that we have in the country, especially over the past two years.

The article continues after the video.

The other side of the storm: What Do Black Immigrant Domestic Workers in the Time of COVID-19 Teach Us About Building a Resilient Care Infrastructure follows a 2020 report. This report, Storm Notes: Black Immigrant Domestic Workers in the Time of -COVID-19 interviewed more than 800 workers in Massachusetts, Miami-Dade, Florida and New York who shared their experiences dealing with issues such as housing insecurity, a high rate of job loss and job vulnerability. safety due to a lack of health care, PPE and worker protections generally afforded to other essential care workers.

In 2021, IPS and NWDA returned to the same pool of workers in the same three regional areas. Over 1,000 workers responded, resulting in a critical data report.

This report shared exclusively with ESSENCE found that black immigrant domestic workers who were already vulnerable before the pandemic due to their intersectional identities as black immigrant women, who in some cases are undocumented, were even more vulnerable to exploitation. , wage theft and lack of security in dangerous circumstances.

The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. Forty-one percent of domestic workers said COVID-19 had led to a reduction in the number of working hours, an increase of 25 percent from 2020. The majority of respondents said they did not were not receiving benefits from their employer, such as paid vacation or paid medical expenses. or health insurance.

Other major concerns for domestic workers include whether they would face housing insecurity or disruption to necessities such as public services due to job instability. When first interviewed in 2020, 65% said they were afraid of eviction or loss of public services. In 2021, 41% said they had been forced to move, been evicted or had their public services cut off because they were unable to pay rent or other bills during the pandemic.

Overall, 68% of domestic workers work in positions for which they do not have an employment contract. These staggering statistics explain why advocates say there is a major need for change in order to provide domestic workers with the support and protection they need.

June Barrett is a home health aide in Miami and leader of NDWA’s We Dream in Black project.

“We need laws, we need a safety net. We do the work that makes all other work possible…we are the threads that weave society together, so we deserve these protections,” said June Barrett, Miami homemaker and leader of NDWA’s We Dream in Black project.

Barrett, a Jamaican immigrant who identifies as gay, has worked as a domestic worker for decades and says these basic protections should exist, but they don’t because the industry is like a “free for all” with little regulation and they want that to change.

“We hope that with this survey people will see the need at every possible level, whether they are funding our campaign or becoming strong allies, we need this help and support,” they said. declared. said.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is calling on Congress to act by investing in Medicaid child care, home and community services (HCBS), which would raise wages and standards for home workers and also create a pathway towards citizenship for workers who are undocumented.

The organization succeeded past a Bills of rights for domestic workers in ten states and two cities. Along with the crucial data from this new report, it also calls on Congress to pass a national bill of rights for domestic workers to increase protections and raise standards for workers across the country.

“I am almost sixty years old and I would like to pass this baton, you know, to the new generation of nannies, housekeepers, caregivers because there will always be people, workers like me in companies. We are vital and our voices need to be heard,” Barrett said.

Editor’s note: In sharing Lydia’s story, we have not used her last name in order to protect her privacy as an undocumented worker.

TOPICS: National Alliance of Domestic Workers