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Domestic Worker Organizing: From Invisibility to Recognition

Myrla Baldonado shares her experience as a caregiver to help others.

Myrla BaldonadoMyrla Baldonado is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an AAPI Women leader.

I have been a home care provider since I moved to the United States in 2007. As a caregiver I worked 24 hour days earning a wage that was lower than the Illinois minimum wage. I prepared food, fed, bathed, cleaned up the house, changed diapers, lifted, turned, dressed wounds, prepared medicine, provided comfort, understanding and love to elderly patients. This work was both physically and emotionally draining. I worked fulltime which placed me in a similar situation as the majority of domestic workers who have families to support with low wages and no benefits. I worked long hours in isolation, struggling often through abusive situations in an unregulated industry where domestic workers are excluded from even the most basic protections such as minimum wage and overtime pay. Furthermore, I experienced loneliness, humiliation and loss of self-esteem.

This suffering encouraged me to develop the courage to stand up and speak to the general public about my own personal experiences and that of other caregivers whom I have met through my work. In my search for a solution I joined Caring Across Generations and started to understand that the growing need for more caregivers is being fueled by the quickly aging American population. Immigrant women and people of color like me make up the majority of workers who are meeting this demand for care. Thus, in order to achieve quality long term care for the elderly and the disabled of America, workers and consumers must work together.

I also joined Latino Union, a member organization of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, in 2011 as a household worker organizer. In the course of that work, I crossed boundaries to co-found the multiracial Chicago Coalition of Household Workers where Asian Americans can work collectively with Latinas and African Americans in order to gain justice, dignity and respect for caregivers, housecleaners, and nannies. In a small period of time we’ve made some significant achievements.

Jane Addams, a prominent social reformer and the first American woman Nobel Peace Prize awardee, founded a settlement house called the Hull House at the turn of the century in Chicago. That House is now a museum that hosts an exhibit called “Unfinished Business: Home Economics in the 21st Century.” The exhibit honors Mary Keyser, the housekeeper of the Hull House, who worked for Jane Addams and her colleagues. A saying of our movement is painted in big letters on the wall of the exhibit: “The Work that Makes All Work Possible". One of the artifacts in the exhibit is my “freedom notebook,” a journal of the difficult tasks of caregiving. It stands for my strong desire to set my mind free and to lift my spirit from a prison-like situation to organize domestic workers, build a movement, and make change. It is with this resolve that I carry on with me the vision of a caring society where workers are treated equally and will no longer live on poverty wages through situations of abuse and discrimination.

Myrla Baldonado is a household worker organizer with the Latino Union of Chicago, co-founder of the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, and a worker leader for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.