WIP Ai-jen Poo

Respect, recognition, and higher wages for domestic workers

A conversation with Ai-jen Poo, president, National Domestic Workers Alliance

In this episode of Work in Progress, my guest is Ai-jen Poo, president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). We got the chance to sit down together at the Milken Institute Global Conference last week in Beverly Hills to discuss the status of domestic workers in today’s workforce.

The NDWA supports policies and programs designed to give the nearly 2.5 million nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers who care for our loved ones and our homes the respect, recognition, and rights they deserve.

Two years into COVID, most caregivers and care workers are back at work, but most family caregivers are coming back at a much slower rate, says Poo. She tells me these are “mostly women – disproportionately women of color – because they lack really good care options that are affordable and accessible” themselves.

NDWA is part of a group of 90 labor leaders urging the Senate to pass through budget reconciliation the Child Care for Working Families Act which would help working parents get back to work by lowering child care costs, getting families more child care options, and boosting wages for child care workers.

“We have shortages of workers in child care and in direct care for older adults and people with disabilities and that is because the wages for the workforce have not increased,” says Poo. Seventy percent of domestic workers earn less than $15 an hour, according to a recent survey by NDWA.

“You can understand why there’s a really difficult choice there between working and staying home and caring for your own family members,” she adds. “This is a huge issue and a little bit of a vicious cycle where until we secure the care workforce, it’s gonna be harder for family caregivers across sectors to go back to work.”

The NDWA is also pushing the U.S. Congress to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. “The bill addresses the historic exclusions from the 1930s and would bring the workforce into the 21st century, creating protections from discrimination and harassment and addressing things like the need for paid sick days, the need for training, and the need for a voice at work,” explains Poo.

The House bill repeals the exemption of domestic live-in employees from certain minimum wage and maximum hour requirements. It requires employers to provide domestic workers with a written agreement covering wages, sick leave, benefits, and other matters. Employers must provide written notice of termination and provide at least 30 days of lodging and two weeks of severance pay to terminated live-in employees.

Poo argues that there is an urgency to getting this piece of legislation passed.

“It is a full-time living for more than 2.5 million people every day and it’s high time that we recognized it as a profession. There is a culture that when we don’t recognize something as legitimate as a career, as a profession, having real value in our economy, it creates a kind of shadowy dynamic where anything goes,” explains Poo.

“You might find a family who actually does see your work as a true profession and treats you with respect and pays you a living wage, maybe even offers you benefits.

And then you have the whole other end of the spectrum, where you have cases of human trafficking. You have rape and sexual assault. You have people who are treated as less than human, and everything in between, because there’s no standards.

“There’s no guidelines. Even if you want to do the right thing, sometimes it’s hard to know what that is in this environment that’s not really recognized.”

You can listen to the full podcast with Ai-jen Poo, or you can find it wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 230: Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance president
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0

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