07 June 2011

California Domestic Workers Win Big!

Congratulations to grantees Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the National Domestic Workers Alliance! Last Thursday, the California Assembly passed their Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, 41-19. This is a crucial step forward in the fight to secure labor rights for nannies, elderly caregivers and housekeepers, who make up one of the most invisible, excluded workforces in the nation and have been explicitly barred from state and federal protections afforded nearly every other worker. These domestic worker activists -- the majority of whom are immigrant women of color -- will now set their sights on the California Senate, and hope to bring the bill up for a vote soon.

If successful, California would become the second state in the country with a domestic workers bill of rights on the books, following closely behind New York, which passed the first such law last year. The historic New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was won thanks to a years-long campaign led by another Ms. Foundation grantee Domestic Workers United (DWU). Founded in 2000 in a small office in the Bronx, DWU drafted the original legislation and then built a diverse statewide coalition of supporters, including representatives from labor, religious, immigrant and youth movements, who learned to see domestic workers' rights as intimately linked with their own. Today, DWU is partnering with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, led by former DWU executive director, Ai-Jen Poo, to advance similar wins in other states -- the first, of course, being California.

Domestic workers' organizing in New York, California and nationwide is a powerful lesson in movement building -- uniting and mobilizing diverse groups in common purpose -- and the role that philanthropy can play in bringing such success about. The Ms. Foundation, which has proudly supported Domestic Workers United throughout its development, has embraced opportunities to support the once emerging, and now thriving, domestic workers movement. Today we also fund DWU's state and national sister organizations -- Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the National Domestic Workers Alliance -- groups that are making striking progress during a time of extreme right-wing pushback and a punishing economic crisis.

In fact, last week's win in California (along with fabulous news about paid sick leave and single-payer health insurance in Connecticut and Vermont) is just the kind of medicine our movement for progressive change needs. Domestic workers are making key strides on behalf of women, workers, and immigrants at a time when the rights and well-being of these groups are under attack in Washington and statehouses nationwide. So, let's all find great hope and inspiration in this positive news. And then think of ways to help ensure that the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights becomes law. Think you're happy now? Then we'll really have something to celebrate!

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Photo: Mujeres Unidas y Activas

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