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Unsung Black Heroines Launched a Modern Domestic Workers Movement—Powered By Their Own Stories

Source: Yes! Magazine

Excerpted from Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement

In the late 1990s, household workers around the country began to organize to address the exploitation and abuse in their occupation. These domestic workers, immigrant nannies, housecleaners, and elder-care workers from all over the world—the Philippines, Barbados, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Indonesia, and Nepal—used public shaming strategies to draw attention to particularly egregious employers, sued for back pay, developed support groups, organized training and certificate programs, and lobbied for statewide domestic workers’ bills of rights. In building a movement, domestic workers used storytelling to connect workers with one another. Barbara Young, for example, a former nanny and an organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, joined Domestic Workers United in New York City in the early 2000s. Young was in a park one day with the child she cared for when another household worker, Erline Brown, invited her to a DWU meeting in Brooklyn. “People were telling the stories about the work that they were doing, not getting vacation, not getting paid for holidays.,” she explained. “It was the first time I was hearing stories from workers coming together.” DWU mobilized women of different racial, ethnic, linguistic, and national backgrounds. Despite the diverse origins, all the stories seemed to resonate with one another. As Young put it: “Some people had different stories but similar stories.” read more