Building Black Domestic Worker Power

a mural of dorothy bolden. She is painted on a wall with a halo behind her head and colors over her heart. Another person and the sky is in the background

Photo: National Domestic Workers Alliance

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a potent reminder of the crucial role that frontline workers play in every community. While many of us worked from home, food service workers, health care workers, domestic workers, and others put themselves at risk, every day, to keep critical infrastructure, businesses, and our homes running. While corporate profits soared, frontline workers saw skyrocketing costs, juggled childcare with unpredictable school schedules, and lived in dread of bringing COVID home to their families.

Despite their critical role, too often frontline workers, and especially those like domestic workers whose roles are not public-facing, are all but invisible in our political landscape. As a result, they are underpaid and lack tools to ensure that their rights are protected. Domestic workers, overwhelmingly women and disproportionately Black and Latina, have a right to fair pay and safe work environments, but until they hold political muscle, they will never control their own destinies in the workplace.

Organizations like the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) are helping domestic workers build that muscle, to empower them to demand the basic protections that every person deserves. While these workers face an uphill battle toward securing their rights because of historic oppression, and the fact that most have marginalized, intersecting identities as women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+ people, NDWA’s aggressive agenda for long-term power building will secure victories today and give domestic workers a seat at the table into the future.

NDWA deploys a variety of strategies to build domestic workers’ power. In the past year alone, NDWA has brought the struggles of domestic workers out of the shadows and shown the need for urgent action by developing a Black domestic worker agenda, and sharing that agenda through the Unbossed Black Immigrant Film Series; by using eye-catching art and culture to build public support for domestic workers’ rights; and by developing a body of data that reveals how the pandemic affects domestic workers.

NDWA chapters have also raised the profile of path-breaking leaders of the domestic worker rights movement like Dorothy Bolden, so that Black women can see the ways in which their struggle today is linked to historic fights for civil and economic rights. With Black women increasingly playing a linchpin role in electoral races across the country, acknowledging leaders like Bolden can prompt frontline workers to never let their votes, their voices, or their labor be taken for granted.

These strategies are paying major dividends. Throughout 2021, NDWA chapters across the country successfully fought to create an Essential Workers Board (HCEWB) in Harris County, TX, the first such board in the U.S. made up entirely of frontline workers; ensured that domestic workers would be covered under New York’s Human Rights Law; and won Medicaid rate increases for Home and Community Based Services and Intermediate Care Facilities in states across the country, potentially leading to sizable pay increases for domestic workers.

Support for organizations like NDWA lies at the heart of WDN’s Opportunity & Equality For All Impact Collective, through which we fight to build a just economy by investing in organizing led by the very workers with the most at stake. In a moment when workers are increasingly flexing their muscle, WDN grantees are ensuring that women, and especially women of color, win tangible victories, build enduring power, and attain their fair share of the country’s prosperity. We are also proud to fund NDWA through our Jean Hardisty Initiative, which move resources to Black-led movements that are channeling protest energy into power, with a long-term goal of eradicating structural inequality and eliminating the racialization of systems that uphold it.

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