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The Scholar & Feminist Online is a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
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Issue: 8.1: Fall 2009
Guest Edited by Gisela Fosado and Janet R. Jakobsen
Valuing Domestic Work

Organizing Domestic Workers: The National Domestic Workers Alliance

Leah Obias

Over the last decade, in large cities throughout the United States, domestic workers have begun organize themselves, creating a powerful movement. With the support of worker centers and immigrant community organizations, domestic workers have united to demand justice, respect, dignity and better working conditions. This rising movement has already achieved many victories, including the establishment of worker-owned cooperatives; winning over 2 million dollars in unpaid wages for exploited domestic workers; the establishment of training programs for domestic workers to know and defend their rights, and to better understand how governments and employers benefit from their labor and migration; and legislative victories at the city and county levels. In 2003, domestic workers pressed the New York City Council to pass a bill requiring placement agencies to obtain signed promises from employers to respect minimum wage, overtime and Social Security obligations. Several years later, the women of CASA de Maryland led a successful campaign for a bill requiring employers in Montgomery County to provide workers with written wage and benefits contracts. Most recently, the domestic workers movement achieved an historic gain with national coordination and the establishment of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia in June of 2007.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is a vehicle for domestic workers to build power nationally. Its mission is to organize to improve the living and working conditions of domestic workers; win respect and justice from employers and the government; challenge the racism and sexism that has led to the persistent devaluing of this labor so that workers, their children, and the general public honor the dignity of domestic work; end the exclusion of domestic workers from recognition and protection as a workforce; build a movement of migrant workers fighting the inhumane impacts of globalization; and continue a brave legacy of resistance by supporting organizing efforts among all workers and communities for justice.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance spent its first year formalizing its structure and strengthening relationships among the initial 15 member groups located in 10 cities nationally. This included organizational exchanges among member organizations where organizing practices were shared and workers told the stories of their experiences. Member groups kept in contact through monthly calls and came together in the first National Domestic Workers Congress in New York City, at Barnard College, in June. At the Congress, new organizing initiatives in Seattle, Denver, Houston and Miami received support and resources to help build their local work, and organizations received training in the history of domestic work and understanding gender and migration. Key discussions included a dialogue among existing national alliances such as Jobs with Justice and Grassroots Global Justice to share lessons, and a discussion on important issues of our time and their impact on domestic work, including the presidential elections, climate change and war. A Coordinating Committee was established through an elections process and the basic outline of a workplan for 20092010 was approved.

Since its inception, the NDWA has grown to 19 member organizations in 11 cities. Recognizing that member organizations have a range of capacities, experiences, and abilities to engage in organizing and/or base building activities in their respective communities, one continued focus of the NDWA is supporting emerging domestic worker organizations and creating opportunities for organizational exchange. To bring member organizations together in support of local work, to plan campaigns, and to discuss the workplan at the regional level, two regional congresses took place in 2009: the Eastern Regional Congress at Barnard College in June, and the Western Regional Congress at Laney College in Oakland in November. The NDWA National Training Institute, a forum for member organizations to share their rights- and skills-trainings and political education curricula, participated in both Congresses. At the Eastern Regional Congress, 100 workers from 11 organizations took part in trainings, workshops and planning discussions. Key discussions focused on the economic crisis, particularly its causes and how it has impacted immigrant women workers and communities. A panel of workers and feminist scholars discussed the importance of building solidarity among women.

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© 2009 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.1: Fall 2009 - Valuing Domestic Work