Covid-19 will impact millions of women, particularly women of color and women in low-income jobs, whether they contract the virus or not. Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, recently wrote an op-ed for The New York Times imploring employers and the government to protect caregivers, who are often on the frontlines of disaster and don’t have the same protections as other full-time workers.
The 19th spoke to her about who these caregivers are, how they are being affected by the virus and what can be done to help them during this crisis.
The 19th: A key takeaway from your op-ed is that we should take care of the people who take care of us. Who are we talking about and what does that look like?
There are millions of domestic workers — mostly women and women of color — who work in our homes providing caregiving and cleaning services. Taking care of our children, our aging parents and our homes is hard, vital work. In times of crisis like the moment we are in, it’s even more essential.
We need nannies to support the emergency room doctors and health care professionals with child care. We need house cleaners to help disinfect our homes. We need home care workers to provide life-saving services to older people and people with chronic illnesses.
Most domestic workers do not have health care, paid sick days, paid time off or job security. And most are primary income earners for their families. The wages they earn mean they live paycheck to paycheck, so there’s no savings to rely on either.
We know that women are going to be disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, whether they get sick or not. Talk about some of the unforeseen consequences for the women you represent that you’re thinking about in the midst of this crisis.
The women we represent at the National Domestic Workers Alliance are hearing that they should stay home, but that is an impossible choice for most. Domestic work cannot be done remotely. And most don’t have paid time off, so they cannot afford to stay home. They are worried about how they will put food on the table for their children or keep the lights on. They are also deeply concerned about the families they care for.
We’ve heard stories of domestic workers being quarantined with the families they work for and unable to return to their own families because someone in the household where they work has symptoms. We’ve heard that people are losing work and unsure when they will receive their next paycheck, with no savings to draw from. We’ve heard people being forced to stay at work to keep their jobs and sign releases if they become sick. And many domestic workers are older women themselves, so highly vulnerable to infection, with limited access to health care.
What can government and concerned members of this society do to mitigate some of that?
In terms of policy, taking care of them means making sure home care workers are classified as essential personnel in this crisis so they are prioritized for protective equipment, testing and treatment. It means ensuring that emergency sick days and paid leave proposals are fully inclusive of this workforce, which is too often excluded from the protections they desperately need.
If you employ someone in your home and you are able, offer paid time off. Have a conversation with them about what they need, and encourage them to reach out to NDWA, which is creating and updating information and resources that will help them navigate this crisis. Also, donate to the Coronavirus Care Fund, to support our ability to provide emergency assistance to domestic workers in need.
From the Collection