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Channel Kindness Radio: National Domestic Workers Alliance, Supporting Essential Workers

In this episode of Channel Kindness Radio, Born This Way Foundation’s Shadille Estepan speaks with Ai-jen Poo, the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Ingrid, a member, and leader within the alliance. Learn how the coalition is supporting their members, what their efforts mean to thousands of families across the U.S., and about the personal experiences of Ingrid and how she found strength and community. You’ll also learn about NDWA’s Coronavirus Care Fund, which is providing “emergency assistance for home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners to support them in staying safe and staying home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and to care for themselves and their families.”

Check out the full transcript of the conversation:

Shadille: Hello, Channel Kindness Community! It’s Shadille Estepan with Team Born This Way Foundation, and on today’s episode of Channel Kindness Radio, I have the honor of speaking with the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-jen Poo and later in the episode I speak with Ingrid, an essential worker whose life has been uprooted by this global pandemic, like millions of people across the U.S. and the globe. Ai-jen, thank you so much for sharing your work with our community. I’m so excited to talk about the importance of supporting our domestic workers and how your organization supports our domestic workers.  Ai-jen, can you share a little bit about yourself and your work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Ai-jen: Sure. Hi, everybody! It’s so good to be talking to you today, and thanks so much to Shadille and everybody on the team for having me. It’s really an honor to get this time with you. I am an organizer, and I have been building a movement of domestic workers and caregivers for more than twenty years. I started out in 1998 doing this work, and we represent the workforce that works in our homes every day – the nannies who take care of our children, the housecleaners who maintain order and clean in the home, and also the home care workers who take care of our elderly loved ones, our parents, our grandparents, and they support people that we love who have disabilities, also, to live independently in the home. It’s work that’s really important because it makes it possible for so many people to go out and do what they do every single day, and yet it’s some of the most undervalued and vulnerable work in our economy. The wages are incredibly low. It’s mostly women and women of color who do this work, and many immigrant women. There’s very little access to a safety net, no paid time off, no paid sick days, and a long history of being excluded from some of the most basic labor rights. So, my organization has been advocating and building this community so that we can be powerful and have a voice together to shape our future. 

Ai-jen: Basically, anyone who does this work can join as a member, and being a part of our community means that you are able to get access to training, to benefits, to resources, and then to be a part of a powerful force for advocacy. And one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve been able to pass laws in states that create new rights and protections and real recognition for this really important work and it’s basically a whole new framework to make sure that these jobs that are so important and so undervalued become really good jobs that you can take pride in and really support your family on in the future. One of the things that we’re really focused on right now is supporting domestic workers and caregivers through what is just an incredible level of crisis, both in terms of the coronavirus and the health issues, but also in terms of the economic impact of the virus where so many people have lost their jobs, so many people have lost income and are just struggling to figure out how to put food on the table for their families, and how to stay safe and healthy through it all. So, we’re really laser-focused on that right now. 

Shadille: Domestic workers aren’t the only low-income workers to have been, essentially, plunged into financial hardship by the outbreak. Last month, initial jobless claims soared to 3.28 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. We hear a lot of numbers, but how does the NDWA connect with the individual and how do you support domestic workers who are often “  left behind” by pandemic relief efforts?

Ai-jen: Such an important question because you hear a lot of numbers about how many people are unemployed and how many deaths there are, how many people are sick right now, but you don’t hear as much the real human story. What does that mean? And for us, we’ve been listening to domestic workers since day one. And you know, in the first instance we started hearing stories of house cleaners who are losing jobs and losing their income, and they were really worried because they were losing, between one week and the next, losing 80% of their income, and worried about how they were going to put food on the table. And then we started seeing that there were calls to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus, right, the shelter-in-place rules and the social distancing rules, and a lot of domestic workers were put into a really impossible position between staying home and keeping themselves safe and keeping themselves safe and their families safe and helping to prevent the virus from spreading, but then also if you don’t work, you’re then risking not being able to provide basic needs for your children, for your family, and everything from keeping the lights on to keeping a roof over your head. And so, this impossible choice to not work was also really painful for workers trying to figure this out. And then there’s the set of workers who continue to work through it all. And even though they’re not called “essential workers” in this moment, they’re absolutely essential – the nannies who are taking care of the children of emergency room doctors, and public health officials, and all the other people who are keeping this country safe right now and keeping us all safe. Domestic workers are behind the scenes making that possible. And also, the home care workers whose job it is to take care of our older loved ones, many of whom are really isolated in their homes and communities and without caregivers they won’t be able to get their medication, they won’t be able to get food, they won’t be able to stay safe, and we really do need to make sure that the most vulnerable populations to the virus are safe and cared for and the homecare workforce is the one out there really making that happen. So they are a huge part of the emergency response team right now, but they don’t have access to masks or protective equipment, they don’t have access to treatment or care, any kind of healthcare, so that’s what we’re really advocating for is to really recognize and value the health and safety of all of the people who are working right now because they’re holding the whole thing together. They’re holding all of us together and keeping us all safe, and that includes the domestic workers and the home care workers who are less visible, but just as important. And we wanna make sure that all the people who are not working right now, especially the undocumented and the people who were already really financially insecure are gonna get access to relief. And that’s gonna be another big issue that we need to solve. It’s one of the reasons why we launched our Coronavirus Care Fund, which is a fund to provide emergency assistance to domestic workers and caregivers out there who are in dire need right now. And we know that we’ll never raise enough money through individuals to be able to support everybody in need, so we really need our lawmakers to take action and protect all of us. Not just some of us, right? All of us are vulnerable, all of us need support, and we have to care for everyone in this moment. 

Shadille: I’d love to dive a little bit into how this fund that your team has created is taking care of the people who care for us. But before we dive into that, I’m curious to know about how does virtual organizing and offering the support work? How is that working and what does your team do to do that in this moment?

Ai-jen: It’s a great question. So, not every domestic worker has a computer, but most are online through their phones. So, we do a lot through mobile. Everything from texting communication to video calls that can be done by mobile phones to conference calls with hundreds and thousands of people to keeping in touch with people by Facebook. We have a Facebook Messenger chat bot which reaches 230,000 domestic workers every week. So, we use any and all channels we can. And we know that domestic workers are engaging and they’re on Facebook, they’re on WhatsApp. So wherever they are, we meet them there. 

Shadille: I love how these tools are helping to bring together your members and amplify the message of your work. Can you tell us a little bit about the Coronavirus Care Fund you mentioned and what that means for domestic workers in your network? 

Ai-jen: So, the Care Fund is a fund that provides emergency assistance in the form of $400 Visa cards at the moment, and we’re continuing to expand the ways that we can get cash to people. But it’s for workers to pay for everything from food to other essential supplies. Many are using it for masks and other cleaning supplies to keep themselves and their clients safe. There’s all kinds of urgent needs that people have that you can use the money in the fund for. Right now, it’s being distributed to domestic workers who are in our community already who we are already in touch with. So we’re spreading the word, and we’re hoping to continue to widen the circle of people who can get access.

Shadille: So, in addition to the Care Fund, what are the types of resources are you providing for the workers and how has this new virtual world that we’re all taking a dive in helping you do that?

Ai-jen: So, one really great example that I hope you can help me spread the word about is just last week we launched a new program called the COVID-Ready Caregiver Certificate Program. And basically, it is online training that we’re offering for free for the next few days or so, maybe longer, to all the caregivers out there who want to know how they can stay safe and healthy, and protect themselves and their families in this moment of public health crisis. And it’s a series of 33-minute videos that you can watch on your phone. So, they’re really bite-sized and each of the videos covers a certain topic that is useful. And it’s everything from minimizing your risk of exposure to the virus to also mindfulness, and meditation, and other ways of keeping yourself emotionally healthy. Because these are incredibly stressful, emotional times. I really recommend people checking out the COVID-Ready Caregiver Training Program, and it’s useful. I mean, I’m not a professional caregiver, but I watched all the videos and found it to be incredibly helpful. And I know family caregivers have been finding it helpful too, so just wanna encourage people to help us spread the word about that. And then this week, we’re really excited to be launching a peer-to-peer emotional support texting platform where caregivers support each other. Because one of the things we were hearing was that people are isolated, and they feel alone and they are fearful, and they’re depressed, and they just need some support. And being connected to a community and other people is so important in this moment as I’m sure this community knows so well. This platform will help people support each other. We’ll enable some peer-to-peer texting and ongoing communication to provide that emotional support.

Shadille: Our community at Born This Way Foundation and Channel Kindness, recognize that value of peer-to-peer support, and a lot of times when we think of peer-to-peer support, we think of this in-person connection or element, but during this time I think we’re all finding really unique ways to reach each other to create and foster that connection. I certainly hope that those in your network check out the COVID-Ready Caregiver Training Program, which just launched on your site.

Ai-jen: Mmhmm. That’s right.

Shadille: Fantastic.

Ai-jen: And you can track all of our offerings on our website, which is: domesticworkers.org. So, you should be able to find it by the end of this week. 

Shadille: It’s so wonderful to hear about the many ways that your organization, your team, and your community are coming together to support each other. What are some things that we can do to more specifically help raise awareness for your organization?

Ai-jen: Well, thank you so much for asking that question. I mean, one of things I’ve been thinking a lot about is in times of crisis when it feels like things are coming apart, there’s so much also that gets revealed. And a lot of the things that get revealed are very painful and difficult, but there’s also a tremendous amount of good that gets revealed. What’s been revealed to me is the power of community here, and how much people at our core – we’re very kind and caring. And what communities do is they offer the channels and the mechanisms for each of us to show up as our most kind and caring selves. I just love the way Born This Way Foundation really supports that and invests in that. And I know that it’s very similar to my community. We feel like an extension of yours because that caring and that kindness is at the heart of who we are. So, I think you know, we see all of you as our extended family, and we know many of you have domestic workers and caregivers in your lives. And just to have them be connected to us and know that they’re not alone. That there is a home and a community that really cares, that gets up every single day and the thing that we care the most about is their health and their well-being. So, if you can connect them to us, that’s great. And make sure that they know that there are resources available to them, that they’re not alone. There are trainings, and support mechanisms, and real resources that can be available to them. And you can really see the power of community showing up in that context.

Shadille: Are there additional ways we can “show up” for domestic care workers beyond this pandemic?

Ai-jen: Absolutely. So there’s two things that are really important to me that I need your help with. One is that there will be millions of people who will fall through the cracks of the federal relief programs that are being offered right now in the wake of the virus. And I’m very concerned about our immigrant siblings who are just not gonna be, they’re gonna fall through the cracks of any real support. It’s really important that our legislators hear from us – our congress members, our senators, at the federal and at the state and local level – to say that we want relief and recovery policies to protect all of us, to take care of all of us, including our immigrant community members. That is very, very important. Whether people are documented or not, this virus affects us all. And we’re all so connected and interdependent, and we all need care. And so, we have to send that message to our legislators. Otherwise, it will become a political third rail and will never – the human cost will be too great. So, that’s one thing we really need your help with is to make those calls, urgently. And this workforce is really invisible, so we need your help in making it visible. We need your help to let them know that domestic workers and caregivers are essential workers. They’re part of the workforce that is keeping us safe, right now at our greatest time of need. They need support. So, they should be getting protective equipment, and hazard pay, and treatment, and testing, and all the things that every essential worker deserves right now. Those are the two things that we really need your help on in terms of advocacy.

Shadille: Thank you so much. We were first introduced to your organization through our Executive Director, Maya, I was just so moved by your work and your initiatives. I am an immigrant, as are my parents, and my mother was a domestic worker for most of my life. To know that there’s an organization like yours that is looking out for these marginalized individuals and trying to find a way to support them, be it through a fund, through helping to provide that peer-to-peer connection, the training you mentioned, or even in the legislative space. There’s so many ways that we can support one another and make sure that no one falls through these cracks that we inevitably know may come. I’m sure you connect with them on a daily basis, but to any domestic worker listening to us right now, what would you say to them?

Ai-jen: I would say to them, first of all, thank you for the incredibly important work that they do to take care of the most precious aspects of our lives – our children, our parents who raised us, our grandparents, our homes, I mean what could be more important? So, I would first and foremost say ‘thank you’. And I would also say that I know many, many domestic workers, and there’s such incredible strength and resilience within this group of mostly women, mostly women of color – so much strength and resilience. And that is also power, and it will get us through. And the beauty of being a part of a community like the National Domestic Workers Alliance is our whole entire job is to support you to be strong and to be resilient – and to make it through the hard times, but ultimately to be recognized and valued for your contributions. We invite you to join, please know you’re not alone. We see you. We see you as the unsung ‘she-roes’ of our country in times of health and in times of crisis. 

Shadille: Thank you so much, Ai-jen. It was lovely speaking with you. As it says on your website (domesticworkers.org), these workers do the work most precious to us: Caring for our home and our loved ones. Now, we’re going to hear from Ingrid who’s worked as a trabajadora de hogar since she and her family immigrated to the United States in the early 2000’s. She tells us about her role, what the alliance means to her family, and the many, many ways that domestic workers across the nation are joining forces and creando communidad. Gracias, Ingrid, por tomar el tiempo para estar con nosotros aquí en esta entrevista, hoy dia.

Ingrid: Gracias a ti Shadille y a la organización también que nos está dando esta oportunidad para que el mundo en realidad escuche nuestras voces. 

Shadille: Gracias a usted. ¿Para empezar, nos podría decir que significa ser una trabajadora del hogar?

Ingrid: Bueno, creo que para nosotras las trabajadoras del hogar, somos el timón de cada familia. No solamente en los Estado Unidos si no al nivel mundial. Porque nosotros somo las personas que le cuidamos sus niños, cuidamos su salud, limpiamos sus casas, les cocinamos comida fresca todos los días para que después de cada hornada la gente pueda llegar a sus casas y poder descansar. Y la definición exacta que tenemos para nosotras es trabajadoras del hogar. 

Shadille: Gracias. Yo me crié con mis padres en los Estado Unidos después de emigrar de la República Dominicana y mi mamá fue una trabajadora de hogar y agradezco su trabajo y el trabajo de millones de las trabajadoras y trabajadores de hogar. ¿Nos podría decir, que significa este trabajo para usted y su familia?

Ingrid: Bueno, para mi, este trabajo es un trabajo muy digno so solamente para mi si no para toda mi familia, para mi entorno que es una familia pequeña que yo tengo. Somos tres nada más. Nosotros hemos emigrado de La Paz Bolivia el año 2000. Vivimos veinte anos aca en los Estado Unidos, mis dos hijos vinieron a los cinco y siete años y al igual que tu, ellos me han ayudado. Son dos varones, pero me ayudaban a limpiar las casas y entonces para mi es un trabajo que ha dignificado mi vida porque gracias a este trabajo, sigo manteniendo mi familia y también he podido ayudar a mis hiso para que puedan estudiar, a que puedan trabajar. Y no los en el entorno de mi familia si no también a mucha gente y a muchas compañeras con las que podemos unirnos para poder defender de todas las cosas que este trabajo tan, tan digno no da a nuestra familias. Porque esta dignidad nos empodera para poder digamos seguir viviendo y luchando en este camino tan difícil.    

Shadille: Aprecio mucho lo que dices. ¿Nos podría explicar un poco sobre la Alianza Nacional De Trabajadoras Del Hogar?

Ingrid: Si, la Alianza Nacional De Trabajadoras Del Hogar es una alianza que realmente nos impulsa, nos da el poder de defendernos, nos ayuda con talleres, nos enseña a defendernos en realidad en muchas cosas que pasamos ya que nosotras estamos excluidas de los derecho humanos. Entonces cuando pasa cualquier cosa nosotros no tenemos derecho a ir a ningún lugar a reclamar por cosas que no sucede. Por ejemplo, cuando nos despiden injustificadamente, cuando no nos paga el precio justo, cuando hay violaciones en los trabajos, cuando no tenemos días de enfermedad pagados, y tampoco, no tenemos retiro en formal cuando ya somos adultas. Entonces La Alianza National De La Trabajadoras del Hogar, nos ha empoderado, realmente, de poder luchar en contra de todas estas cosas. Y es de esta manera que nosotros apoyamos todas esas cosas de los biles que pasamos en diferentes estado y al nivel nacional. También hemos presentados recientemente un bill donde puedan defendernos de todas esas cosas. 

Shadille: Hablemos de la comunidad y el sistema de apoyo que has creado entre la alianza. ¿Nos podría decir un poco sobre esa comunidad?

Ingrid: Bueno, para mi, eso es un corazón, que ha empezado asi chiquito y se va expandiendo y expandiendo por que van entrando muchas de nuestra compañeras. Yo recuerdo la primera reunión donde nos invitaron porque yo tengo dos hijos que son Dreamers también y yo soy una mamá soñadora. Entonces la primera vez que yo fui, me sentí como pato en el agua. ¿Como se dice, no? Como te digo, la alianza, para mi es un corazón que cada dia va creciendo mas y va palpitando más porque ese corazón está mostrando que somo vivas, ese corazón está mostrando que no somos invisibles, y palpita cada dia mas para podernos defender en este camino de tanta lucha. 

Shadille: Increible. Ese tipo de apoyo mueve montañas.

Ingrid: Exactamente, y no solamente en esta situación que ha sido una manera de sacar más a la luz, toda las cosas que pasamos porque todo el tiempo nosotras estamos siendo muchas veces humilladas, estamos siendo maltratadas, estamos siendo dejadas, y no es solamente en las pandemias, si no es todo el tiempo, y la alianza siempre nos está apoyando. La alianza nos está llamando. Nosotros todos los jueves a la una de la tarde tenemos una llamada al nivel nacional donde entramos todas las compañeras para poder hablar de todas las cosas que hacemos, del trabajo que realizamos, de todo lo que está pasando en cada estado, de que necesitamos algo y ellos realmente, nos están ayudando hasta económicamente porque a consecuencia de esta pandemia, nos están dando un bono de $400 dólares que nos está ayudando de gran manera. A pesar de que tal vez para muchas personas no significa mucho, pero para nosotras significa bastante.

Shadille: Tambien le queria preguntar, ¿Qué le dirías a otras trabajadoras y trabajadores en otras partes del mundo que quizás no tengan una alianza como la de usted?

Ingrid: La Alianza National De La Trabajadora del hogar tenemos páginas en Facebook, en Twitter, en todas las redes. Entonces yo les invitaría también a que se unana a nosotros por que si no como les digo esto no es un lugar solo para los estado unidos si no es al nivel mundial. Muchos de los casos, como yo, somos indocumentadas y eso hace que tengan miedo. Quiero que tambien esas personas dejen ese miedo a un lado y se tengan el poder de poder a unirse a nosotros. Porque juntas vamos a poder hacer muchas cosas. Unidas vamos a poder lograr. La alianza nos ha ayudado a prender una luz en el mundo, entonces queremos mantener esa luz prendida. Ya no queremos vivir en esa sombra, en esa oscuridad.  Queremos que nuestra voz se levante, que esa luz se mantenga, y ese poder se una para poder seguir luchando, y defendernos las unas a las otras,  

Shadille: Hagamos todo para que esa luz siga alumbrando. Ingrid, gracias,  por estar con nosotros y por tomar el tiempo de hablar conmigo. Departe de mi equipo y de nuestra comunidad le damos las gracias a todos los trabajadores esenciales que nos apoyan todos los días.

Ingrid: Creo que hoy ha sido unos de los días más felices y más motivadores para mi, el poder hablar con usted, pues porque ya  me canse de llorara porque muchas veces a las trabajadoras del hogar nos tienen como un trapo, digamos. ¿No? Y mientras le silva el trapo nos hacen funcionar, pero cuando ya el trapo esta viejito, nos tiran a la basura. Y me parece que eso no es justo porque nosotros somos seres humanos también. No somos descartables, y somos personas que sentimos somos personas que también tenemos necesidades y queremos que el mundo sepa eso. Es muy triste, y no solamente en ese sentido, sino que también no tenemos documentos, el gobierno no nos colabora, pagamos taxes pero tampoco no nos ayuda. Somos invisibles cuando necesitamos ayuda pero cuando tenemos que pagar somos bien visibles y eso no es justo. 

Shadille: Fue un placer conocerla y aprender más sobre la alianza. Gracias Ingrid.

Ingrid: Igualmente. Muchas gracias y agradecerles a ustedes también porque de una u otra manera ustedes levantan nuestra voz.                                                               

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