Home employees combat to be included within the Covid restoration

When the coronavirus pandemic upset everyday life a year ago, Joyce Barnes was a key worker for whom remote working was not an option.

Barnes, 62, is from Virginia, who has worked in home care for over 30 years. With wages just above the federal minimum and no paid sick leave, she looked for personal protective equipment to protect them from the virus while caring for elderly and disabled patients.

“It was like a choice, ‘Am I working today? Or is my paycheck tight?’ I know I am not feeling well, but what should I do? ”She said in a telephone interview. “You have no choice but to go ahead and pray.”

Despite the risks associated with housework – which will likely be done indoors and in close proximity to other people – domestic workers like Barnes were the most likely to fall through the cracks when Congress debated economic relief efforts.

“We are the forgotten,” said Barnes. “And that’s why we have to fight.”

According to a report by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute last year, women of color make up 52 percent of the domestic workforce, about 2 million in the U.S., including nurses, cleaners, nannies, and other workers. Undocumented immigrants also make up about 20 percent of the workforce, which the report says could be an undercount.

These groups are at a disproportionate risk of serious illness and death related to Covid-19.

Since a large part of the work is in the money economy, the work data are not fully recorded according to experts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also makes it harder to qualify for unemployment benefits, an integral part of Congress’s recovery effort.

Domestic workers had problems before the pandemic broke out. According to the Economic Policy Institute, they are paid less and protected by less occupational health and safety. They live in poverty three times as often as other workers. Less than 20 percent have access to basic health care.

Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a nonprofit advocating raising labor standards for the workforce, said the organization found in January that 40 percent of domestic workers were out of work. A third of those who worked made less than $ 10 an hour, she said.

“The numbers speak for themselves, but behind each number is a person who is likely a major income earner for their family, likely a mother of young children, and a life literally struggling like a nightmare of impossible choices for themselves and their families “said Poo.

Domestic workers’ organizations like yours have continued to organize and raise awareness over the past year, and their work appears to be bearing fruit.

Virginia is poised to pass a bill that would include a range of protections for domestic workers – what proponents call a Bill of Rights for domestic workers. It was adopted in other states like New York and California, but it is the first of its kind in the south.

“This Bill of Rights would include domestic workers in all existing health and safety measures that every other worker in Virginia has access to when it comes to discrimination, harassment, safety and security in the workplace, and ensure you have access to compensation if you do to do this.” You are injured at work and ensure that the state has the responsibility and authority to set safety standards for what a safe workplace for domestic workers is, “said Alexsis Rodgers, state director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance in Virginia.

With a new government in the White House emphasizing justice, domestic workers, who often lie in the shadows, are also hoping a new round of Covid-19 aid could reach them.

“I would say the change is making people feel seen,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union. “These gaps have not been filled, but we feel like we are working with the highest level of government to fill the gaps in each community.”

But, Rodgers said, there are still challenges to relieve undocumented domestic workers.

“Nobody asked about their status when they were asked to pay taxes. Nobody asked about their status when they otherwise participated in our economy,” Rodgers said. “We have to make sure we bring these workers into the group now that we have an administration that understands this work is important.”

Lenka Mendoza, 43, a domestic worker attorney in Virginia, has spent nearly two decades cleaning homes and hotels and working as a nanny. In a telephone interview, she said she had seen firsthand undocumented workers being left alone.

Mendoza, who speaks Spanish, remembered through a translator how she and other lawyers had helped fired and homeless colleagues. She said getting the Virginia bill through is a top priority and making sure Congress gets through.

“Now we are giving our sisters and brothers a more dignified work environment that is respected and better paid,” she said through her translator. “And before that, there was nothing that could protect them from discrimination, mistreatment in the workforce, from not being paid or being poorly paid.”

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