This week’s feature story is an important look into the under-reported plight of domestic workers. They are the caregivers for children, elderly and sick, as well as caretakers of homes and daily chores that are often looked-down upon as remedial, low-skill tasks, undeserving of dignity and respect; often, so too are the workers.
The reality is that these jobs are vital parts of daily life that must be done to enable working families to fulfill the demands of their jobs. These workers are frequently disrespected, at best, and demeaned, exploited or abused at worst.
One possibility is because, as the article points out, the opportunity to take advantage of these workers is easily available. The other possibility is that, as we see in the rest of American society, this is further exploitation of minorities and women, which comprise the majority of domestic workers. Further contributing to this problem is the presence of undocumented immigrant workers, who need any work they can find and are living under threat of deportation.
There is no easy solution for expanding workers’ rights and protections to include this class of worker, legal U.S. citizen or not. In theory, this is when a union would be able to advocate on behalf of an individual worker. Unfortunately these workers are often the lone employee in a household, and therefore lack the “collective” power of collective bargaining. They live in constant fear of employer retaliation or termination.
These workers do incredibly important work, and their influence is immeasurable in its reach through out society and our economy. As such, everyone knows a domestic worker or a family who utilizes their services. In the case of nannies and sitters, whether they live with the family or not, they will often times spend more time bringing up the children of the family for which they work than they do their own children. So not only are they making the personal sacrifice to provide for their family, but they are essentially part-time parents. These need to be people you can trust, as if they were part of the family, and in turn, they should be treated with the respect and dignity of a family member. That means fair wages, healthy workplace conditions and the same legal protections extended to employees in other workplaces.
Again, the solution is not as simple as passing a state or federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. That being said, this is not simply an oversight, where these workers have fallen through the cracks. This is once again an issue of minorities and women being taken advantage of, sometimes maliciously.
The most startling example of how some, particularly people of influence, view minority workers can be seen in Donald Trump’s recent tirades on illegal immigrants. He said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems […] They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crimes. They’re rapists.”
I do not consider Donald Trump a spokesperson for the Republican Party, or a legitimate presidential candidate. In fact, I hope this is the only time I ever have to mention him in an article as such (although I have my doubts), but he is appealing to the prejudices of a large swath of Americans who think people of a different color are bringing drugs, crime and are rapists.
It is apparent that these are not just the biases or rantings of “the Donald,” but that this sentiment is prevelant among a large number of Americans when Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas and a presidential candidate, did not denounce Trump, but rather applauded him for his candor and “focusing on an issue that needs to be focused on.”
To the credit of some other Republicans and candidates for president, they did criticize Trump and condemn his comments. But in the same month that we realize gay marriage equality in America, and a national movement brings down the offensive reminder of slavery in the Confederate flag, we also have two self-aggrandizing public figures continuing to reinforce false narratives and prejudices of a large group of people.
These two issues are not unrelated. They are very much symptoms of the same illness that has plagued the America for 239 years: the abuse and exploitation of minorities and women. Donald Trump is factually wrong in his claims about illegal immigrants. As the Washington Post revealed, “Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course.” As well, “There’s essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime.”
But more important than his factual inaccuracies, which most Americans generally disregard as just Donald being Donald, is that we not let the momentum against prejudice slow. The opportunity to marry is now a right for all citizens, and the Confederate flag is now a historical item for museums. It is time for the fair treatment of minority and female workers in America.