Organizing With Love by Ai-Jen Poo

Subject: Workers Rights, Domestic Workers, Women's Rights, Immigration
Themes: Community Development Worker's Rights Women's Rights 21st Century
Age groups: Middle School High School
Resource type: Articles
From the introduction to Ai-Jen Poo's 2010 article describing the successful campaign to win a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York State. To read the entire article in PDF format, click here.
The fight to win a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York state – led by Domestic
Workers United and the New York Domestic Workers Justice Coalition - has been one of
those great organizing campaigns. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is a piece of
statewide legislation that will recognize the domestic workforce and establish basic labor
standards. The first legislation of its kind, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will provide
overtime pay, protection from discrimination, notice of termination and other basic
benefits for the more than 200,000 women – most of whom are immigrant of color - who
work as nannies, housekeepers and companions for the elderly in New York State. The
fight to win the Bill of Rights has been like a love affair, full of exciting moments, inspiring
growth and life-changing struggles. Throughout most years of our efforts, domestic
workers and organizers were told we were trying to achieve the impossible. But we
believed that we could win.
And as this article is being written, we are on the verge of that seemingly impossible
victory. Our six-year organizing campaign to pass the Bill of Rights saw its first major
victory in 2009, when the New York State Assembly passed a bill to end some of the
exclusions of domestic workers in existing labor laws. On June 1, 2010 the New York State
Senate spent two long hours debating the merits of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. On
one side, legislators argued that we couldn't ask more of employers in a time of economic
strife. On the other side, legislator after legislator told stories about their mothers and
grandmothers who had been domestic workers and who had labored in the shadows to
provide for their families. The debate concluded with a vote - 33-28 - in favor of passing
the bill. The Senate bill went much further than the version passed by the Assembly; it
would provide actual benefits like paid leave, benefits that otherwise would be impossible
for an individual worker to negotiate on her own. The two bills must still be reconciled and
the Governor must sign them into law. However, an historic shift has already taken place.
Before this effort, domestic workers were largely invisible, and the question being asked
was whether domestic workers should be included in the labor law. Today, the questions
are, how far will benefits and protections be extended, and how far will we go to restore
dignity?