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Jobs

Domestic Workers: “Organizing with Love”

Great organizing campaigns are like great love affairs. You begin to see life through a different lens. You change in unexpected ways. You lose sleep, but you also feel boundless energy. You develop new relationships and new interests. Your skin becomes more open to the world around you. Life feels different, and it’s almost like you’ve been reborn. And, most importantly, you begin to feel things that you previously couldn’t have even imagined are possible. Like great love affairs, great campaigns provide us with an opportunity for transformation. They connect us to our deeper purpose and to the commonalities we share, even in the face of tremendous differences. They highlight our interdependence and they help us to see the potential that our relationships have to create real change in our lives and in the world around us.”—Ai-jen Poo, Domestic Workers United. From Organizing with Love: Lessons from the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Campaign.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which took effect in November 2010, is a massive and unprecedented win for the new labor movement—and it is a model for the way organizers and lawmakers alike must begin to think about workers’ rights in the 21st century economy.

The New York law guarantees nannies, housekeepers, and home health aides weekly time off and subjects employers to state law for minimum-wage violations and sexual harassment. These are all basic rights that traditional, full-time employees have long enjoyed, but that a broad swath of workers who are not protected by labor laws have never seen. In August, the California State Assembly passed a resolution recognizing similar labor standards for domestic workers, rights that lawmakers will likely codify as state law next year. Organizers in other states are working to generate more such victories.

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Women Re-energize the Movement: Panel Discussion

As part of RP&E’s 20th anniversary commemoration, we decided to review the origins of key social movements over the past few decades and their trajectories into the future. The ensuing panel discussion with three generations of women activists looks at the intersection of race and class with gender, and how women’s participation in social justice movements has (or has not) empowered women workers, especially working class women of color and immigrant women.


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Aileen Clarke Hernandez is a union organizer and civil rights activist. In 1964, she became the first (and at that time, only) woman member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She is a past president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the State Chair Emeritus of the California Women’s Agenda (CAWA). She is a founder of Black Women Stirring the Waters and Chair of the Coalition for Economic Equity, which advocates for increased government contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses.
Catherine Tactaquin is the executive director and a co-founder of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Her commitment to immigrant rights is motivated by her experience as the U.S.-born daughter of immigrant farm workers from the Philippines. She was involved for many years in grassroots organizing and advocacy in the Filipino community on issues of discrimination and foreign policy.
Juliet Ellis is executive director of Urban Habitat, an organization that builds power in low-income communities and communities of color by combining education, advocacy, research, and coalition-building to advance environmental, economic, and social justice in the Bay Area. She is also a member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.


The Case for Holistic Economic Transformation

Marta Castillo has been a worker-owner of Natural Home Cleaning (NHC) for three years and served on its Board of Directors for two years. In addition to the hours she puts in cleaning houses with non-toxic cleaning products, she spends time with the other worker-owners coordinating the worker and owner aspects of the business. This work has provided much more than a stable income for Castillo who lost her daughter to an illness shortly after coming to this country from Guatemala. “I was in a depression,” she says. “Becoming a member of the NHC cooperative helped me to keep busy and to recover.”

Castillo and the other women of the coop are creating meaningful work for themselves out of one of the lowest-paid, most isolating, and often dangerous industries by using nontoxic cleaning supplies and improving worker control over working conditions. This sort of holistic transformation of everyday work on a planetary scale will be the key to overcoming the ecological crisis that now confronts our species because of our ever-expanding industrial extraction, production, and waste generation. Humanity needs to channel its growth not toward increasing material consumption but toward core human values.

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Green Jobs Platform for Solar Energy

When you see a solar panel installer on a roof you probably think, “green job.” After all, the solar panel will help reduce climate change impacts and provide a renewable source of energy. You assume that the worker is receiving a living wage and health benefits and has an opportunity for advancement.

The job looks safe and the product looks green. But what if the worker in China, India, or Mexico who made the solar panel was exposed to toxic chemicals, could not afford healthcare, and was denied a living wage and basic labor rights?

As of now, there is no definition for a “green job” that includes consideration for the environmental justice and health impacts on workers, or for the communities where solar products are made or recycled. And without consideration of these issues, the “green job” concept, which has been an important vision for a change from “business as usual,” risks becoming a form of “green wash.”

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Rights, Not Raids

When the Obama administration reiterated recently that it will make an immigration reform proposal this year, hopes rose among millions of immigrant families for the “change we can believe in.” That was followed by a new immigration position embraced by both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions, rejecting the expansion of guest worker programs, which some unions had supported.

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From the Director's Desk

While the current recession has trapped countless people under the weight of a foreclosed home, unexpected loss of employment, or the evaporation of a life’s savings, those who were struggling before this economic meltdown to meet their basic needs are more vulnerable than ever. This is certainly the case in Richmond, California where the housing crisis has resulted in more than 2,000 foreclosed properties, most of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Simultaneously, cutbacks in public transit services, fare increases, and the related dependence on automobiles, oil, and freeways are increasing the isolation of poor communities. At Urban Habitat, while continuing our long-term commitment to land use issues, equitable development, and regionalism, we have also been working hard to win basic rights in the two key arenas of housing and transportation.

As a founding member of the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), a diverse coalition committed to ensuring that the city’s low-income people and communities of color benefit from development policies and financial investments, Urban Habitat has been advocating the right to affordable housing for Richmond residents for over four years.

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