I’m a domestic worker. I’ve also worked as an organizer through Casa Latina since 2011, first as a volunteer, now as a staff member. Even though I work full-time at Casa Latina, I still clean houses for about ten clients. I spend between 9-12 hours a week cleaning. I wake up at 6am, get all the equipment I need into my car, and start cleaning houses. Sometimes, I work in the evening, depending on the client’s schedule. Afterward, I go to Casa Latina.
I earn about $1,800 a month cleaning houses, which is not enough to support my family and cover expenses. Before Casa Latina, I cleaned houses between 28-30 hours a week. It’s extremely tiring work, and you’re exposed to chemicals the entire time. Long-term, it affects your body in so many ways.
My daughter is a college graduate. I feel really proud that, even as a housecleaner, I was able to pay for three years of my daughter’s education. It was a really difficult time where I worked a lot of hours, including working nights at a restaurant.
I really like it when my clients feel satisfied with my work. Some clients send messages of appreciation, saying they love coming home to a clean house and that I’m a light in their lives.
I don’t always get such positive messages, though. Some clients are really rude. They don’t think of domestic work as a dignified job. One time, I was hired to clean for four hours, then my client came home and asked me to do an additional task in a kitchen that wasn’t my specialty. I tried my best, but it was taking a little more time than my client wanted. She came in and wasn’t happy, so she started yelling at me. I felt my body get really hot, and wanted to leave, but I knew I needed to get paid. Afterward, I told her not to call me again, because I wasn’t going to return to do any more jobs for her.
I hear stories of abuse from my colleagues all the time: being paid below minimum wage, being forced to work eight hours straight without a moment to rest, sexual harassment. Most house cleaners are immigrants and women of color. Many are LGBTQ. Women are marginalized, but LGBTQ women are even more marginalized, and they face a lot more harassment. They also want to be respected. I’m really proud of how we at Casa Latina included the LGBTQ community in our bargaining for better domestic worker protections, so that they too could feel welcome to be able to go into someone’s house and do their job.
I and my colleagues are fighting really hard to get people to see our jobs as dignified labor. We had a big win in Seattle, where we were able to pass a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights that enabled us to get paid minimum wage, to have regular breaks, to be protected against sexual harassment and discrimination, and to participate in a standards board where we can work with our employers to make new recommendations to the City Council of Seattle. They call this the Bill of Rights 2.0, because Seattle now has the most advanced protections for domestic workers. We’re now working to get these protections at both the state and national level.
There’s an online platform called Alia that enables house cleaners to get benefits, such as paid sick days and life insurance. You accumulate credits that enable to get paid time off. These credits can come from one or many of your clients. It doesn’t matter where they come from; they all count the same. I got really excited when I found out about Alia, because it gave me a way to be compensated for time off. I shared it with all of my colleagues, who are also really excited to have enrolled in it.
It’s good for my clients too, because many of them do care about my well-being, and this is a way for them to contribute to me being able to take paid time off. I got into an accident, where I fractured my leg, and all of my clients enrolled in Alia after that. They realized I needed some kind of protection from accidents like these.
As domestic workers, we have a really strong presence in the economy. Our work makes all other work possible — lawyers, doctors, other professionals. We make their lives a lot easier by taking care of their kids, taking care of the elderly, cleaning their homes. We make this world move forward by taking care of everyone else. We need a lot more to live dignified lives — retirement plans, health insurance — and we’re going to keep organizing. If we can win a national domestic worker Bill of Rights, it’s going to be amazing, because not one domestic worker will be left out of labor protections, and people on the national level are going to value this work.
Silvia Gonzalez is a 52-year old domestic worker and organizer at Casa Latina, where she fought for the adoption of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Seattle. She grew up in Mexico and currently lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and two kids. This interview was conducted in Spanish.
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