By Brie Bristol
On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Feinberg Series at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst presented “Domestic Workers Building Dignity and Power, Past and Present”.
The academics on the panel were Linda Burnham, senior advisor at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA); Monique Tú Nguyen, executive director of the Matahari Women Workers Center, and Jennifer Guglielmo, history professor at Smith College.
The focus of the panel was to shine a light on the importance of protecting domestic workers, who are mostly female, to a full multicultural audience of at least 70 people. The panel was moderated by Diana Sierra Becerra, followed by a brief overview of each panelist’ work and how it pertains to domestic workers, and then a “coffee-talk” forum of questions and answers.
It was defined by the women that domestic workers are mostly “poor women of color” who receive unfair wages, no sick days, no retirement, and no overtime. Linda Burnham described domestic workers’ conditions as the slavery of the present.
Burnham discussed that through the NDWA, the domestic workers “Bill of Rights” was drafted in order to create a floor of how to improve conditions today focusing on overtime rights and rights to form a union. The “Bill of Rights” was ratified in 2010 in New York during a Matahari rally, as an act of building a conversation about the importance of protections for domestic workers.
Matahari or Matahari Women Workers’ Center is an organization formed in Boston where, as Becerra describes, “women of color, immigrant women, and families come together as sisters, workers, and survivors to make improvements in ourselves and society and work towards justice and human rights”.
Through Matahari, Monique Nguyen said that members can build a conversation about facts that all people should be knowledgeable about concerning domestic workers; this conversation has successfully been built through the creation of booklets explaining the “Top Ten Things You need to know about Domestic Workers,” these pamphlets are available through Matahari members like Nguyen presenting information about workers rights.
Besides pamphlets, Burnham discussed that another way that domestic workers have been benefited by the domestic workers “Bill of Rights” is through an online platform called Alia, where domestic workers can receive employment benefits. The benefits given through the Alia software range from accident insurance, critical illness insurance, paid time off, and many others. Burnham further explained that through Alia, employers and employees can communicate through phone numbers and emails about accumulating credits that convert into Visa cards, insurance coverages, and benefit credits. It was explained by the panel that Alia is one way that domestic workers conditions are being improved today.
Another way that domestic workers conditions are being improved today is by the availability of working-class archives through funding from Matahari run by Jennifer Guglielmo. These archives have been made available online in order to use history to strengthen movements supporting for domestic workers. Guglielmo has made history accessible through a digital timeline of over 30 slides translated into Spanish and English focusing on minor workers history that was rooted in African American women’s history. She has devoted her work to these slides as an action to promote the movement focusing on domestic workers just like Burnham and Nguyen.
Overall the panel was very informative on a class of people who are our neighbors. It laid out the benefits that domestic workers need, and the ways that we – as a society – can help them achieve the rights that all workers have. You can listen to the audio version of the panel here.