Op-ed: Domestic workers deserve this bill of rights

In Bridgeport tomorrow, the Connecticut legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee will hear public testimony on an Act establishing a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights for Connecticut. We write today to voice our support for this Act.

We need to start differently valuing the labor of those who work with our young, our elderly, and our sick. Through their work, these individuals help to raise the next generation and care for those in need of comfort and support. They also enable other adults to contribute to society through their own work, with the peace of mind that comes from knowing their loved ones are in safe care. These professions make all other work possible. And yet, the pay and respect they are given fail to reflect how essential their work is.

At All Our Kin, we see the effects of this chronic undervaluing on the family child care providers who serve many of our youngest and most vulnerable children. Our nation faces an acute shortage of quality child care for infants and toddlers — especially for low-income families.

Of infants in non-parental care, more than three-quarters are in some form of home-based care arrangement. But despite the crucial role that family child care programs play both in educating the next generation and enabling parents to succeed in the workforce, the majority of these programs are under-resourced and under-equipped. Providers often care for children in their homes for ten to 12 hours a day and are isolated from other educators and from opportunities for training. As a result, nationwide, only 9 percent of family child care programs provide quality learning experiences for children.

All Our Kin supports family child care providers so they can build sustainable businesses and offer high-quality care to children. We offer providers training, materials and connections to other professional caregivers. Our work proves that quality, sustainable family child care is possible with sufficient investment. As one of our providers said, “[Parents are] able to take major steps in their lives because they know their children are in a safe environment. . . [My goal is to] give them the best of me, with their children.”

In addition to continuing their existing support of All Our Kin’s work, the state could take several steps to aid family child care providers, such as funding our state’s child care subsidy system at a level sufficient that rates increase for providers and investing in professional development for family child care providers that is culturally competent, accessible and based in best practices.

We know that domestic workers, who work in someone else’s household, confront many of the same challenges as the providers we serve. Domestic workers may provide child care, care for elders, or serve as a housekeeper or personal aide. They are often isolated, work long hours for little pay, and develop close emotional ties with their clients and employers that can make it difficult to advocate for themselves as employees.

Their work is regularly undervalued and viewed as separate from “traditional” work. Like family child care providers, domestic workers are overwhelmingly female. In 2010, 86.1 percent of personal and home care aides and 90.1 percent of those providing home health care services were women (compared to 94.7 percent of all child care workers). According to an analysis in a recent study at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 46 percent of domestic workers are immigrants, many of them undocumented. The invisibility of this workforce often results in their vulnerability and ongoing marginalization.

This is why we’re so excited about the introduction of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Connecticut.

The labor of domestic workers is central to our society’s prosperity. We need to respect and protect these workers, and we can do so by improving their working conditions, wages, benefits and hours.

We applaud the Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women for their advocacy on this issue, and look forward to the day when all of those who serve as such a vital part of our society are respected, recognized and paid according to the value of their work.

Jessica Sager is a co-founder and executive director of All Our Kin in New Haven. Janna Wagner is also a co-founder and chief knowledge and learning officer of the organization. Meghan Vesel is deputy director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Bridgeport.

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