On May 12, in a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) held a spirited briefing for its Members and their staffs — “Voices from the Front Lines of the Economic Crisis: A Bold Agenda for Change”.
CPC Co-Chair Raúl Grijalva and Congressman John Conyers, as well as about 30 congressional staffers and other allies, heard testimony from members of the Inter-Alliance Dialogue — an emerging coalition of networks representing domestic workers, janitors, day laborers, housing activists, worker rights advocates, and others hit hardest during these times. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive multi-issue think tank in Washington, DC.
Witnesses painted a vivid picture of the current struggles too many workers and communities face, and described their vision for addressing short-term needs as well as long-term systemic change.
Joycelyn Gill-Campbell of the National Domestic Workers Alliance discussed the domestic worker workforce “of over 2 million, mostly women of color who come to this country because the economic policies around the world force us abroad to [find] work to support our families. Globalization has hurt us.” She said before the crisis, a survey showed that of 200,000 domestic workers in New York, 18 percent lived below the poverty line, and only 13 percent earned a living wage. One in five reported “sometimes or often not having enough to eat….One-third of all domestic workers and one-half of live-in domestic workers experience verbal or physical abuse.”
With the economic collapse these conditions have only grown worse.
“The fear of losing their jobs is silencing [domestic] workers who are facing abuse and exploitation,” Gill-Campbell said. “They are so afraid of losing their jobs that they are accepting worse and worse conditions. This is driving down conditions for everyone.”
Her colleague, Antonia Pena, of Casa de Maryland agreed. “It is difficult to honestly say that if you leave your abusive employer you will be able to find something else,” she said. “Employers know this and are using it to their advantage. They are cutting our hours, cutting our already low wages, and if we say something they say ‘Go ahead and leave, there’s lot of people who are waiting in line for this job’…. Domestic workers take care of our families here and in our home countries… If we lose our job, it will mean no food, no rent, not just for us, but for our families.”