Founded in 2000, Domestic Workers United [DWU] is an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York, organizing for power, respect, fair labor standards and to help build a movement to end exploitation and oppression for all. DWU is a proud founding member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. DWU and its partners brought their power to bear in 2010 when the nation's first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed in New York.

January 29, 2013

How to Right a Historic Wrong: Domestic Workers and Employers Come Together in the First “Kitchen Table Dialogues”

On November 11, 2012, together with Jennifer Barnard, Allison Julien Thompson, and Sylvia Medina, I participated in the first “Kitchen Table Dialogues,” a meeting between domestic workers and employers to discuss shared values and our aspirations to raise standards in the domestic work industry. Given an almost century of institutional neglect, these first dialogues between workers and employers marked a significant milestone for our movement. Our fight to reverse institutional exclusions engendered by the National Standards Act was realized with the passage of The Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, historic legislation that provided a foundation for an industry which previously had none. Our fight to bring dignity and respect to the work that truly makes all other work possible did not, however, end with this victory. The Bill of Rights provided us with the minimum protections available to most workers in other industries. Beginning the work of raising standards beyond mere minimum protections necessitates that we gain the support of employers who share our dream that all work will one day be valued equally. Excluded from the National Relations Act, domestic workers, unlike most other workers, do not have the right to collectively bargain. Gaining the support of employers who stand with us in our fight to bring dignity and respect to this workforce has been deeply emotional and humbling experience. In these first dialogues, Jennifer, Allison, Sylvia, and I were able to articulate directly to employers the ways in which our work often extends beyond the purviews of workers in other spheres of employment. Domestic workers often develop deep attachments to their families that employ them, loving the children for whom they care. Each of us articulated this commonality by putting in writing the following statements at this first meeting:

Jennifer: "I see my role, my job as one that extends love towards those I care for. I really love to care for kids."
Allison: "Other people's kids become my kids. My role is to make sure kids grow up happy."
Sylvia: "Children must be raised with a lot of love. I give them a lot of love. I love children; I love my job."

Like Jennifer, Allison, and Sylvia, in the two decades I cared for children, I learned that my role as caregiver is a vital one, in which I became not only a key cog in the works that kept the family running smoothly, but also had both the responsibility and reward of nurturing and supporting children that became an important part in my own life. This first meeting highlighted the ways in which we, the workers, perceive our jobs as more than jobs; in reality, domestic workers become both teachers and co-parents. As caregivers, we share with our employers the value of high quality care for children. These first Kitchen Table Dialogues opened the door to discussing our shared values, and how these can evolve into goals that can be accomplished by all parties jointly. The unity of domestic workers, working hand in hand with employers is a chance to right a wrong; domestic work is important work—domestic work is real work.

In solidarity,
Helen Panagiotopoulos