Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Worth of Women's Work

There are an estimated 1.5 million domestic workers in the United States, mostly immigrants, and not one of them is protected by federal and state laws on job discrimination and minimum wages. They do not have overtime pay, sick leave, vacation leave, health care and workers compensation. They have no right to unionize and they work out of sight in private homes that expose them to exploitation and abuse. Their extended work hours at their boss's whim denies them the opportunity to seek redress or find strength in numbers, which is further aggravated by the illegal status of many. Their vulnerability has relegated a substantial number into slavery.

There are reports of passport confiscations by employers, and direct remittance of their salary to their home country, to prevent escape and to ensure they have no cash to explore the community. Actual amounts remitted are unknown. Reports of 16 to 18 hour work 7 days a week are many, and arbitrary deductions of months of salaries to non-payment of several months work are plenty. Meanness, cruelty, and physical abuse abound too, with some being tasked to handle chemicals which cause wounds that don't heal. And surely, sexual abuse. The stories resemble those from a backward country where its citizens enjoy high per capita income despite having no education. Racial and social discrimination is its cornerstone and it brings to mind a disgraceful period in American history that many would want to bury in the past.

Last year, immigrant household workers formed the National Domestic Workers Alliance composed of 20 organizations throughout the US to campaign for state and federal laws guaranteeing basic labor rights. They held their first national convention from June 5 to June 8 this year in New York City where the host organization, the Domestic Workers United is pushing state lawmakers for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. But the Bill has not received enthusiastic support
from lawmakers. They contend that these workers generally earn several dollars more than the minimum wage which removes the argument for a special law. Where the lawmakers got their figures about the general wages of domestic workers in New York to defeat the Bill must have been from surveys, where the employers were present and the workers too horrified to tell the truth or too scared to be denied salaries, food, and rest.

In New York itself, entire industries and neighborhoods would collapse without domestic workers whose presence allow engineers, journalists, doctors, lawyers, broadcasters, government officials, businessmen, bankers, stock brokers, among others, to do their work, unimpeded by household management. And yet, the work they do is highly unappreciated. It is a belittled profession built around an unequal and heavily skewed arrangement, unprotected by legal statutes, and falls at the mercy of the wealthy and powerful employers. Undoubtedly, there are employers who are well meaning and who would follow a benchmark provided by state and federal laws, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Legislation must be enacted to protect these workers against the myriad ways unscrupulous employers could exploit them.

These workers come to America in hopes of building their dream for their respective families. Suffering the pangs of being away from their own children left to fend for themselves, they care for other people's children with total devotion, dedication and concern; thinking this would be rewarded by God in terms of granting safety for their kids, their own flesh and blood, in their home country. They scrimp and save to remit funds to their loved ones, enduring violent blows and sexual abuse they believe they have to tolerate. These are human beings with simple dreams and great suffering. They must be given their long overdue recognition, appreciation for their skills, and the fundamental dignity they deserve at managing a home, caring for the sick and elderly, and rearing the children.

They are beginning to find their voice, but it remains agonizingly difficult to organize them primarily because they are scared invisible workers known only to the household they work in. Those who lobby against the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights are indirectly supporting a large segment of the rich and upper middle class, whose actuations go against the grain of the perceived social progress achieved, and whose civility is reminiscent of the era of slavery in America.



Kim said...

hello Durano
this is a disgraceful situation...it seems we are still living in a world where slavery is acceptable!!!
I do hope that this alliance finds a voice...
it's so hard when there is widespread bullying and abuse...
so many of the victims have their hands tied (literally)..

Zhu said...

This sad situation is one of the reason I support naturalization of long-time illegal immigrants. Tough issue, I know, but I just can't stand the idea of people being exploited because they have no rights.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

It's hard to imagine but this is actually a confirmation of what I've long been saying. That racism in America is submerged, but is alive and well. This is one of its most shameful expressions.

I hope too that they find a stronger voice and a more powerful initiative to get what they rightly deserve. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

That's just the point, those that get exploited are those who have no rights.

But even if they are not legal, this treatment of a fellow human being is not moral. Just because they hired illegals does not mean they have purchased a slave.

Naturalization will help mitigate these incidents but it is the attitude and the mindset that needs to re-education to change. :-) --Durano, done!

SheR. said...

It's a question that's been bugging me for ages.. Why do humans treat some people as inferior to themselves? Who gave them the right to do so? All humans are born equal. And no one (even our subordinates) should be treated as a "lower" being. The most absurd example is how domestic helpers are treated as servants in a household! They are not allowed to dine at the same table as the employers! This is horrendous! And you should see the living conditions.

We love and cherish our dear Susi who helps my Grandma around the house after she broke her hipbone. She's like a sister to us. And we will never forget to buy her a nice Halal meal when we pop over to Grandma's.

We are all humans.. have some compassion.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Sher,

Discrimination has many forms, and the standards that people follow throughout the world are those that are centered on such things as wealth, power, influence, race, color religion, education, among others.

Those people who have some or all of these in some degree believe that those who do not are inferior.They see people in terms of these standards, not the common standard that we are all human beings in one planet.

I have a strongly felt belief that those who discriminate are insecure. Once they treat others as inferior because of wealth, let's say, they inevitably would feel inferior to those they see as richer than they are.

I guess it's more of throwing their frustrations and their rage for their own inferiority on those "lower" than they are. It's stupid really. :-) --Durano, done!