I saw some comments about immigration reform and labor on one of the threads. I read quite a bit on labor issues, because honestly they’re the only people who talk about work and the economy in a way that makes sense to me. I’m just done with the Tom Friedman’s of this world. I think pundits get more than enough time to talk, or, to relay the interests of the 250 people they talk to.
This is a conversation with a newer labor leader. You may or may not agree with what she says, but I think sometimes there is this perception that the politics around unions involve trying to convince older white unionists to support Democratic politicians or liberal issues. I think pundits promote this misconception, with the whole “lunch bucket” theme they like where “labor” is frozen in time, but I may have also inadvertently promoted it because that’s what we do where I live (convince older white unionists to support Democratic politicians or liberal issues). We do that here because this is an area with a large manufacturing presence and a population that is probably 98% white.
It’s bigger than that. It’s much more ambitious and inclusive and it’s changing:
The past decade has seen a surge of organizing by domestic workers in the United States. These workers, who care for children, senior citizens and disabled people in their homes, are explicitly excluded from many of the basic protections of federal labor law, including union organizing rights. Their job is characterized by low wages, long hours and meager benefits, and it’s among the fastest-growing in the US economy. Last Friday, The Nation sat down with Ai-jen Poo, a founder of New York’s Domestic Workers United, who now directs the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
What is happening is that work is becoming more unstable, insecure, dangerous and vulnerable. When I first started organizing domestic workers, people kind of perceived it as this very exotic shadow workforce at the margins of the economy. But when you look around these days, the conditions that define domestic work are not so different from the conditions that define every American worker’s realities. As more and more people become temporary, part-time or contracted, nobody knows who their real boss is, no one has collective bargaining, no one even knows what bargaining is, and no one works in a workplace where bargaining is actually feasible. We’re essentially all becoming domestic workers.
When we really go up against [restaurant giant] Darden or Walmart, what we have is simply insufficient. I think it will take a combination of these models getting to sufficient sophistication and scale, and a very broad-based movement of people who are invested in the future of work, and can connect to it on a deeply personal and emotional level, and want to take action.
This is the immigration piece:
But as far as I can tell, all of the unions seem to be communicating and working together on this, and even working with us on it, so so far, it’s OK. I think everything’s going to change once there’s a bill. That’s when it’s going to get really interesting.
Immigration reform, it’s just a huge opportunity to potentially win legal status for millions of workers, including care workers and domestic workers. So we’ve been really all in, trying to push to make sure that happens, and to make sure that the path to citizenship is as inclusive as possible. Our main strategy has been actually to contextualize the domestic worker piece in the context of a women’s agenda for immigration reform.
And I hadn’t heard this before:
[Meanwhile,] we’re trying to knit together the interests of immigrants and the aged and people with disabilities, so that those interests don’t get pitted against each other.
Similarly, last year we reached about half a million moderate-to-conservative seniors in five swing states and talked to them about Medicaid and Medicare, but mostly wanted to talk to them about what it would look like to be in alliance with a rising electorate of color. And we’re framing what we’re doing as building the “caring majority alliance,” which actually knits together the interests of a rising electorate of color with the interests of a rising older white electorate. With the age wave, and the boomer generation, and people living longer, we are potentially going to be very racially and generationally polarized in this country. So we’re trying to say that white seniors and younger people of color actually have a shared destiny, and very clear material self-interest in working together.
One state to watch — because it often sets the precedent for the rest of the country — is California, where the labor chant “Si, se puede” (Yes, we can) seems to be coming true for unions. While national union membership is at a record low of 11 percent (versus 20 percent in 1983), union membership is, in fact, growing in California. While the nation shed about 400,000 union members in 2012, California signed up about 110,000 new union members, according to BLS data.