From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Long denied rights, domestic workers find their voices

By John Wojcik, People's Weekly World

WEST MILFORD, N.J. — She came from Guatemala and landed a job as a live-in housekeeper for a family here.

Her workday started at 5:30 a.m. and ended at midnight, seven days a week. She cooked, cleaned, watched children, made home repairs and did yard work. At first she earned $150 a month but after a while her employers started paying her no money at all.

They made sure one of them was with her whenever she left the house. That included trips to the local ShopRite supermarket, the dry cleaners and fruit and vegetable stands in nearby Warwick, N.Y.

Even with her pay discontinued she stayed with the family because she had nowhere else to go. They told her, she says, that if she left them she would be arrested and shipped back to Guatemala.

“I really didn’t know any better,” she said in a recent interview. She asked the World not to use her name because she is undocumented.

A Guatemalan carpenter with a green card talked with her at the supermarket one day. Moved by her predicament, he and his American-born wife helped her find a better job in a home where she says she is now being treated fairly. Her new employer, a family of Indian immigrants in Wayne, N.J., pays her $15 an hour. She works an eight-hour day, six days a week with one day off.

Domestic workers have no legal right to overtime pay, sick time, vacation, health care or workers’ compensation in most states, and the immigrants among them often end up as underpaid or even unpaid indentured servants trapped in their employer’s household.

Increasingly, these workers are pushing aside their fear and mounting an impressive fightback. It includes filing lawsuits against abusive employers, forming groups to demand fair wages, and even lobbying elected officials to change laws that don’t give household workers the labor rights taken for granted by much of the nation’s workforce.

Article continues here.

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