“Caregivers and domestic workers make other work possible for all Americans,” pronounced Secretary Solis at the National Domestic Worker Alliance’s Inaugural Care Congress in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. More than 700 people representing worker centers, nonprofit groups, foundations, unions and caregivers participated in the conference for the primary purpose of launching “Caring Across Generations.” This campaign is aimed at transforming long-term care in the United States, in part by improving the quality and dignity of caregiver jobs. Solis shared her own mother’s experience as a domestic worker and her understanding of the isolating nature of a caregiver’s job, alone in someone else’s home.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
National Domestic Worker Alliance Inaugural Care Congress
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Good morning everyone! Buenos dias!
Thank you for that kind introduction, Gustavo. And thank you for your good work at CASA de Maryland. It’s great to see you! It’s a great honor to be here today. To be in the presence of such great leaders who do so much for working people; compassionate leaders like Aijen Poo and Sarita Gupta who continue to go above and beyond the call of duty.In Spanish, we call women like you “luchadoras” — strong women who fight on and let nothing stand in their way. So thank you for fighting on, and for providing inspiration to my work as Labor Secretary.
And to my sister and true partner in fighting for working families — another luchadora — Valerie Jarrett — thank you for your continued support and tireless advocacy on behalf of all working people and thank you for being here today. And of course we have leaders and fighting women and men from all across the country here today. Faith leaders, labor leaders, and community leaders who every day are organizing to make a difference in their workplaces, in the lives of their families, and in their communities.
We gather today because we believe in the incredible vision of this alliance. We believe America to be a place where “care” — the notion of serving one another — can and should come full circle.
We believe that America must be a nation where dignity and respect are afforded equally and rightfully to caregivers and to loved ones alike — where all people can live a decent life.
And thanks to your work, workers and loved ones are coming together, and they’re standing up for their rightful place in society. Together, they’re building across generations, for respect, for fairness, and for basic human rights that provide a dignified life. So I’d like to thank the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice, and everyone here your good work.
I’d also like to congratulate the domestic workers for your success in New York with passing a Bill of Rights for domestic workers in that state. I understand you made progress last week with a similar bill in my home state of California. And I hope none of you will mind me saying that some pretty good things have come out of the CA State Legislature over the years! Any Californians in the house today?
Earlier Valerie mentioned our event at the White House to honor the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. We met some incredible women organizers there, didn’t we Valerie?I’m thinking about a couple of them today. We heard from Deanna Vizi, a child care worker in Ohio who organized her colleagues through her union, AFSCME. Where’s AFSCME today? And how about SEIU? I know you’re here too.
Deanna has been a leader in the fight to restore worker justice in Ohio. And she spoke powerfully because she knows that having a voice makes her a better caregiver — both at work and for her own loved ones at home. That’s what unions do — they help people live better lives. Some folks in some states say that we need to roll back workers rights, and strip folks of collective bargaining rights.I say they’ve got it backwards! Deanna, her co-workers, and millions of working people need and deserve their seat at the table.
We also heard from Allison Julien, a domestic worker and organizer from New York who Valerie mentioned earlier and I’m told is here today. Where are you Allison? Allison, you said something that day that really touched me. You said, “Domestic workers make all other work possible. I care for the most important elements in my employers’ lives – their loved ones and their homes . . . The work I do matters . . . I contribute to the economy and in my industry I have helped to change the way in which labor laws protect women’s work.”
You’re right. Domestic workers do make all other work possible — for countless Americans. One of my mother’s first jobs when she immigrated to this country was as a nanny. This was before I was born, but from what she’s told me, the problems she faced back then are the same problems millions of women are facing today. The fact is, you all do some of the hardest work out there, and it does matter.
It matters to the elderly man who needs help opening the medicine bottle, taking a bath, changing his clothes or things as simple as putting on a pair of socks or getting up off the sofa. For countless loved ones and especially for the elderly and the disabled, you’re sometimes the first face they see in the morning, and the last one they see before they got to sleep. You’re a friend, a source of hope, someone that will listen, and someone that cares.
You give so much of yourselves — physically and emotionally. And not many people think about that — about just how hard and isolating your jobs can actually be. Sometimes working alone, in someone else’s home, often for weeks at a time and sometimes living there. It’s work — like any other. You are professionals we rely on, and you should be treated as such.
Yet, millions of home care workers struggle to get by, living at near poverty level earning a median income of $17,000 a year. Close to 20% live below the poverty line. And I know many of you in these jobs are particularly vulnerable to harassment, exploitation, and are all too often taken advantage of. But you work so hard. You need a job that will support your families. And you deserve a voice so you can demand dignity and respect.
I mentioned my mother was a nanny earlier. But for most of her life she worked on a factory assembly line. I like to say she worked two jobs.With seven children; she sewed, cooked and cleaned in the morning, and worked at the factory at night. Balancing work and family wasn’t something she thought about or debated — she just did it. And I’m sure if you asked her about it today, she’d say that raising us wasn’t easy — believe me it wasn’t.
But she’d also say that it was at least made possible because of the benefits her union job could provide. Because my mom and dad were union members, we had our shot at the American dream. They worked hard, and trust me we were never rich, but we always had food on the table and their children were able to go to college.
And that’s all working men and women want to today. They just want their shot. Women still need those kinds of benefits and now is not the time to roll back workers rights. Especially as our population continues to age, more and more Americans will begin to depend on caregivers to take care of their loved ones. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created. Home care workers will continue to care for elderly and folks with disabilities who want to live with dignity. Their caregivers deserve dignity, too — the dignity that comes with a good job, with decent working conditions, and with livable wages.
That’s why this Care Congress and our efforts together are so important. Especially now, when some elected leaders want more tax cuts for the rich and do away with collective bargaining rights. They want to cut into Medicare and social security, and even cut programs like Trade Adjustment Assistance that provide a lifeline that vulnerable Americans rely on to survive.
So let me ask you, is that caring across generations?? Is that sustainable for anyone??
We know that a strong economy depends on the well-being of its people. It depends upon not only a strong and growing middle class, but on developing a support ladder so that all working people have the opportunity to get to it. We need to make sure homecare workers have access to affordable healthcare and that they have the ability to join a union and have voice in their work. We need to provide skills training to home care workers. Investing in good jobs and worker training is a clear win-win. For our loved ones, it means better care and better service. For workers it means upward mobility, a career ladder, and a clear pathway into the middle class.
You know it has been part of my mission to raise labor standards and increase protections for all workers — especially for our most vulnerable and immigrant workers. And many of you helped us educate them by taking part in our We Can Help campaign. You helped us make it easier for vulnerable workers to know their rights — in many cases, to let them know they actually have rights — to be able to speak up on the job and file complaints — without fear.
And look, we know that some of our fair labor standards are out of date for how work and workplaces have changed. We have welcomed your input into some of our DOL policies to help better serve the needs of your members. Whether that’s getting your input on the Fair Labor Standards Act and the companionship regulation or by working with you in Geneva at the ILO to establish the first international convention on domestic work.
My Department of Labor welcomes you and is proud to work with you — to raise standards for all working people. That’s our mission at the Department of Labor — to provide good jobs for everyone. That includes domestic workers, caregivers, home care workers and childcare workers. We can and we need to do better as nation for these workers and for their families. We can provide better care for our loved ones and build a stronger middle class at the same time. We have a lot of work ahead of us and it’s not going to be easy, but we’ll make it happen together. Our families, communities and millions of working people are counting on us — on all of you — and we won’t let them down.
Caring Across Generations: I’m proud to stand with you. Thank you for having me here y SI SE PUEDE