By Maria Pia Kirk Berastain
—A press conference was held on November 27 at Mujeres Unidas y Activas’s office (MUA, Active and United Women) in Oakland announcing the results of a national survey of the work conditions of female domestic workers. The press conference celebrated the participation of different community organizations in conducting interview surveys for the investigation. “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work,” which The Women’s Collective helped administer, is the first survey in the United States concerning the work conditions of domestic workers. The survey was carried out in 14 states and in nine different languages.
“We are presenting this report, which is a dream for us. Feel proud of yourselves for being part of this report and moment, it is a wonderful day…we now have the statistics and security to hold our heads high and move forward with something substantial in hand,” said Guillermina Castellanos, the Organizer of the Women’s Collective, during the press conference.
At the conference, several domestic workers shared personal experiences that highlight the results of the survey. “I am a widowed woman with six children. I am 80 years old and still work as a care-taker because it is very difficult to be old in this country; my medical expenses are very high,” said Emiliana Acopio, member of Philippine Advocates for Justice. This woman was paid $1,000 a month as the personal care taker of one person—which amounted to a pay of $2 per hour. She was obliged to do many tasks other than primary care, including cooking [for the family], caring for the family dog, and attending to the needs of other members of the family.”They needed my services all the time, there was no time to rest. They called me by knocking objects against the table. From that experience I’ve developed a traumatic [nervous] reaction to strong sounds,” she expressed through tears.
Sylvia López, leader of MUA and part of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, spoke about the health of domestic workers. While cleaning a house, she handled decomposed food and encountered mice inside the refrigerator. “It was an exposure to potential diseases,” said López.
In conversations with the members of The Women’s Collective (the Colective), several reflected on the process of developing and administering the survey. “In order for someone to be interviewed, they couldn’t be part of a union or organization. When they were asked if the work was dangerous for their health, they responded that it wasn’t, because of ignorance or lack of information,” said Matilde Vásquez, member of The Collective. We discussed [while formulating the survey] the topic of using chemicals over a long period of time. The consequences [of chemical use] manifest in different ways, such as asthma, allergies, vomiting and even gastritis”, explained a member of the Women’s Collective.
The investigative team, which developed and administered the survey, was comprised of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance (NDWA), Domestic Workers United (DWU), Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA), The Women’s Collective, The Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) and Data Center. Survey development, data collection, and analysis took 3 years, under the direction of DataCenter, a research and training organization for social justice movements. For this study, DataCenter trained members of 34 community organizations to administer the domestic worker survey.
Maria Lucia Cruz and Maria Fernández, members of the Collective, and Guillermina Castellanos, attended a three-day training in Los Angeles where they helped develop a 54 question survey in Spanish. That document was translated into English, which was then translated to other languages. Colective members who were trained in Los Angeles provided training to other members who wanted to take part in conducting the survey. Each person interviewed 15-20 domestic workers in parks, on buses, and in other public places.
After all the hard work that went into this research project, a sense of happiness, hope, and victory filled the building of MUA. “To have taken the time to be here, that alone makes you a leader. Who are the leaders of this country? Mothers, women that work, their work strengthens the economy of this country. An applause for women,” said María Aguilar, member of the Collective.
Guillermina Castellanos, who led the conference, concluded with the following message: “From these results we do not only want to mobilize workers, but also our hearts, and the passion it takes to continue fighting. Let us all sing. ‘We are here and we are here to stay,'” sang the women present.
Translation: Maricruz Gonzalez