Veronica Avila, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, grew up in a family of domestic and direct-care workers who, despite their hard work, fought to piece together family-supporting wages from multiple sources of income. Avila’s parents confronted many of the barriers to economic security faced by domestic and direct-care workers today. The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) seeks to use training and education to help domestic workers increase both the impact of, and income for, their critical work and help lift their families out of poverty.
Avila is now NDWA’s workforce development director. She was drawn to NDWA’s work not only because she is committed to overcoming the challenges she saw, but because she became a direct-care worker herself. In fact, 90 percent of the domestic workforce is comprised of women, with 65 percent being women of color.
One of the biggest challenges she faced was the lack of job training. “I was severely undertrained and, quite frankly, putting myself and the people I was caring for at risk,” she said.
Thousands of domestic workers do not have access to the workforce training necessary to advance in their careers, earn family-sustaining wages, achieve job security or find better working conditions in a field identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as one of the fastest growing and also, most physically dangerous. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, there are more than 725,000 domestic workers working in private households and being directly paid by their employers. BLS projects personal and home-care aide jobs; and home health aide jobs to increase by 50 percent from 2008-2018, due in part to projections that the total number of Americans in need of long-term care will rise from 13 million in 2000 to 27 million in 2050.
NDWA’s Care Workforce Development Program (CWDP), made possible in part by a $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, seeks to train NDWA’s national base of Latino and immigrant domestic workers to become higher-earning direct-care workers and to climb up the career ladder. According to NDWA, many domestic workers are unable to afford their basic needs, leaving their children without the stability they need to thrive. The program also helps to address the root causes of the economic uncertainty that threaten children’s ability to succeed.
Currently, CWDP serves workers in New York and Seattle. The program has two training tracks: the child care program, which teaches skills in early childhood development, and the elder-care training program, which prepares workers to provide care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; as well as negotiating skills to increase their wages by as much as 15 percent.
Annie Bello, originally from the Philippines, is a New York-based graduate of the elder-care training program and has worked as a nanny. Like many immigrant workers, she lacked a reliable income but was looking for a way to develop her skills, expand career options and develop a more stable income.
Bello learned of NDWA trainings through Damayan Migrant Workers Association Inc., a grassroots organization and member of the NDWA network that builds leadership capacity for Filipino workers, specifically female domestic workers.
“It was the best thing that happened to me,” she said. After the training, Bello had a credentialed skill set that allowed her to explore additional work opportunities in the field of elder care.
“I applied for a job as a caregiver for an elderly dementia patient after graduating. When I presented my credentials from NDWA, my employer was so impressed that they hired me just like that. My credential allowed my employer to trust me right away.”
Giving recognition to domestic workers is at the heart of what Ai-jen Poo, director of NDWA, is hoping to accomplish through the CWDP.
Poo has served as director of NDWA since 2010 and has been a committed advocate and leader in the field for years. She has written a book on elder care and is a 2014 MacArthur fellow for her work in changing the landscape of working conditions and labor standards for domestic or private-household workers. Her efforts ultimately resulted in the passage of the nation’s first Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Poo and the NDWA network were also instrumental in the Department of Labor’s decision to include caregivers for the elderly and disabled in federal minimum wage and overtime protections which raised the pay of two million low-paid women. Poo said NDWA’s trainings empower workers and give them the tools to appropriately care for the needs of their employers or their children, while being able to negotiate for higher wages or better working conditions to improve their family’s financial security.
New York-based NDWA organizer Irene Jor experienced the impact of NDWA’s programs firsthand. “Our trainings add value to the work. They not only help workers, but they help employers and workers understand and respect each other mutually,” she said.
Jor worked closely with Bello for the elder-care training. She illustrated for Bello and her classmates that one of the core skills needed to advance in her career as an elder-care worker is compassion.