I started working as a live-in domestic worker at a house and began seeing things I didn’t like, things that were not okay. They were selling drugs and other things. So I decided to leave. My former client didn’t like that; she thought I was going to tell the police and started threatening me and texting me saying she would call immigration. When I fled from that house, I had to leave all of my things behind, including my documents and passport. My former client took all of my belongings and wouldn’t give them back to me. That’s when this nightmare began. Even today, it’s a nightmare. I got connected to the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) through the process of trying to get my documents back. I’m 100% committed to NDWA now.
Domestic workers deserve respect and to be recognized for their work. We pay taxes like any other worker, but we don’t receive benefits or have protection against abuse.
I’ve been a domestic worker for 15 years. I’ve worked as a cleaner, a babysitter, a caregiver for the elderly. When my children were younger, I worked two to three jobs at a time to be able to support them. As a house cleaner, I worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day from 8am in the morning until 8pm at night, and cleaned three to four houses a day. I worked constantly to support my children. Now that I’m older, I can’t do as much as I used to. I still have a house to clean every day. The houses I clean now are bigger – mansions with seven or eight rooms – and take longer so I can’t commit to more than one a day. I get $250 to $300 a house, so that means I make $1500 on a good week or $600 on a slower week. I earn less than before, but my children are older now and are working. I live with them and they can support me financially so it’s less of an issue if I’m cancelled or have a slow week.
I like the independence of my work and that my work is valued by my clients. But I’ve experienced discrimination and workplace abuse. It’s been difficult when people think that, because we’re immigrants, we can’t be trusted. If I go into the home of a potential client and it seems like they’re untrusting of me, I don’t take that job. Some people walk around their own homes clutching their bags as if I’m going to steal their things. I’ve had experiences where I don’t even get the opportunity to work or interview because they think I’m going to rob them, and I’m dismissed because of discrimination.
Unlike every other type of worker, we don’t have a way to handle workplace abuse. It’s important that we have a place to go when we experience abuse.
Domestic workers deserve respect and to be recognized for their work. We pay taxes like any other worker, but we don’t receive benefits or have protection against abuse. We work for the same people for years and years and never get a paid day off for vacation or sick time. We all need paid time off to get sick and for vacation. In all of my years of working for many different clients, I've never received any benefits and we deserve it just like any other worker. I have already talked to my clients and they are ready to sign up for portable benefits so I can receive this benefit. And unlike every other type of worker, we don’t have a way to handle workplace abuse. It’s important that we have a place to go when we experience abuse. I’m fighting to stop these things from happening to other people and fighting to change the laws. Every person I see on the street, I ask “What’s your job?” and tell them about the work we’re doing. A lot of people don’t know, just like I didn’t know. I’ve talked to city councilors to tell them about the laws we need and we passed the Philadelphia Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Every point in the bill is important. With the new standards board, the Philly law will help me and all the other domestic workers stand together to protect and advance our rights. But the most important part is that we will not be threatened for not having papers. I’m satisfied with my work, but a lot more needs to change.
Maria is a 50-year-old domestic worker. She immigrated from Mexico and now lives in Philadelphia, PA. Maria has three children, who are now 26, 27, and 30. Maria’s community includes a variety of workers; most of her friends, family, and neighbors work in restaurants, construction, and housekeeping. Maria’s first language is Spanish and this narrative was delivered in Spanish.
As domestic workers, we have a really strong presence in the economy. We need a lot more to live dignified lives — retirement plans, health insurance — and we’re going to keep organizing.
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