By Doug Cunningham
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger acknowledged in a recent Detroit Automotive Press Association event that it’s an open question whether newly hired auto workers can afford to buy the cars they’re making. New hires are paid $14 an hour under concessions approved by the union under Gettelfinger’s leadership. Still, Gettlefinger defended the concessions saying the union had to do it to get to tomorrow. He says the UAW will look to make gains where it can in U.S. auto industry contract talks next year.
A new report finds millions of young workers facing both joblessness and a lack of health insurance. Jesse Russell reports.
By Doug Cunningham
Vermont’s Republican Governor Jim Douglas has cleared the way for his state to establish a universal health care system based on human rights principles. He pledges not to veto the bill passed byVermont’s legislature requiring three systems be designed to create universal health care in Vermont that recognizes health care as a basic human right. James Haslam of the Vermont Workers Center says the campaign spearheaded by the center has achieved a first of its kind health care is a human right victory in Vermont.
By Doug Cunningham
Not covered by U.S. labor laws—and until 1974, denied even minimum wage protection—domestic workers are among the most vulnerable. But in recent years, they, like other workers, have found innovative ways to organize, mobilize and spread their message.
Marina’s experience as a domestic worker is typical. She left her home and family in Colombia to find work in the United States. She was desperate for a job that could help pay for insulin and other medications her children need to take daily.
She was hired to care for a child with a disability in New York. At least, that’s what she was told. But she ended up cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry as well.
Her conditions were appalling. Marina worked 18 hours a day, six days a week for $3 per hour. Her living quarters were a basement with an overflowing sewage system. Then, after three years, she was summarily fired and instantly became homeless.
Marina’s experience isn’t unique. Far from it. Domestic workers are routinely victims of exploitation, from wage theft to verbal and sexual abuse. Says Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance:
Every single domestic worker in this country is vulnerable to those kinds of conditions.
Poo helped spearhead one of the first efforts to organize domestic workers in New York City, forming Domestic Workers United. Three years ago, Domestic Workers United joined with similar groups across the nation, forming the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
In 2004, Domestic Workers United started pushing for a New York-wide Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights with paid sick days; personal days and vacation; notice and severance pay; overtime pay; one day of rest per week; and health benefits. In June, the New York Senate is expected to pass the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. It should be signed into law soon afterward. It will be a first in U.S. history.
One of the group’s strongest supporters has been AFL-CIO President Emeritus John Sweeney, himself the son of an immigrant domestic worker, who traveled to Albany to join their lobbying of state legislators. (You can make a donation to the Domestic Workers United at: www.domesticworkersunited.org.)
California domestic workers and their supporters are trying to follow suit. On the national level, the alliance is working closely with the Labor Department to expand domestic-worker protections and enforce the few that are already there.
At the global level, the International Labor Organization (ILO) meeting, for the first time in its history, will consider passing a convention to end abuse of domestic workers at its upcoming International Labor Conference in June.
The domestic workers and their union backers are looking forward to engaging their employers in a good discussion on achieving internationally recognized rights for domestic workers. Poo notes the Obama administration and the AFL-CIO are behind the effort:
The AFL-CIO has even opened up some of its delegate seats for domestic workers to be part of the delegation to the conference.
Victories in Albany, Washington and Geneva make headlines. But more and more, there also are quieter victories like Marina’s. After she was fired from her job in New York, she contacted Domestic Workers United. It helped her hire an attorney and file legal claims for unpaid back wages—and she won.