Elizabeth Warren addressing the National Domestic Workers Alliance Forum in Las Vegas Tuesday. (Photo: Michael Lyle)
Millions of people working as house cleaners, home care aides and child care workers are also working to have their political voices heard as they fight for higher wages, stable scheduling and access to paid leave.
As Care in Action, the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, weighs an endorsement in the Democratic presidential race, an estimated 2.5 million of those workers are looking to flex their political muscle during the nomination process.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, billionaire businessman Tom Steyer and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who spoke via telephone, addressed the National Domestic Workers Alliance Forum in Las Vegas Tuesday to talk about policy proposals important to workers.
The event comes as the group vets candidates for a potential endorsement, which could happen by March 1, just two days before Super Tuesday when 1,344 delegates are awarded.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance is comprised of workers and local organizations across the country including 10 groups in California and eight affiliates in Texas — two states where hundreds of delegates up for grabs March 1.
On average, domestic workers earn $23,000 a year, or $11 per hour. The industry is also comprised predominantly of women of color and immigrants, who account for an estimated nine out of 10 domestic workers.
In addition to advocating for raising the wage to a minimum of $15, Care in Action wants the federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act to be enacted, and is prioritizing policies like child care, paid family medical leave and long term care.
According to the organization, Warren and Sanders, along with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, are the only three candidates who support all its priorities. However, the audience was reminded that while Buttigieg supports the long term care priority, he doesn’t support Medicare for All, which the group argued is essential to long term care.
Hearing directly from the candidates is important for the group to make its final decision.
Warren used part of her time Tuesday to share her story as a single, working mother while in her twenties to illustrate her understanding of the importance of child care.
“I was serving hot dogs at night — counting ketchup as a vegetable — then doing laundry at 9 o’clock and preparing classes for the next day at 11 o’clock, but I was making it through. It was hard, but I could do hard,” she said. “The part that nearly sank me was child care.”
While addressing the audience, both Sanders and Steyer called it an embarrassment for the U.S. not to have policies like paid family leave.
“It is unbelievable that a woman in America gives birth and in some cases she has to go back to work within a week in order to bring in the income she needs,” Sanders said. “There are countries around the world that guarantee eight, nine or 10 months a year of paid family leave so that women and fathers can bond with the kids. We have got to change priorities in America.”
Both Warren and Sanders touted wealth tax proposals, which taxes multimillionaires and billionaires, to pay for universal child care, paid family leave and other public services.
Audience members asked candidates, if elected, how they would work to get a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act passed.
Former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal sponsored the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act in 2019. Both Warren and Sanders are cosponsors of the Senate version. The bill would address issues domestic workers struggle with such as earned sick leave, fair scheduling practices and unfair wage deductions.
Steyer said getting the legislation passed starts by getting more Democratic sponsors on board, adding the bill only has 86 congressional sponsors.
“That means we don’t have the support of nearly enough Democrats,” he said. “The first thing that has to happen is Democrats have to come on board.”
Both Sanders and Warren agreed an administration could use its power to help the bill succeed.
“I would use the leadership of the White House to fight for this bill,” Warren said. “I would also bring in domestic workers to talk about this bill.”
Sanders said despite people wanting to see greater protections, Congress hasn’t acted.
“On this issue and many other issues, it is clear to me Congress doesn’t represent the will of the American people,” he said. “What I will do is use the bully pulpit to rally workers all over this country to stand up for justice.”
With a high number of immigrants estimated to be working in the industry, audience members also wanted to hear candidates on immigration reform, specifically, how candidates would ensure a “clean” comprehensive immigration reform bill that doesn’t include compromises such as “cruel and abusive immigration enforcement.”
Sanders said passing immigration reforms starts with getting Trump out of office.
“I believe if you have a president who is trying to bring us together, not divide us, we can create a kind of movement that says to Congress, end the demonization and end the division,” he said. “Many undocumented people are doing the most difficult and important work in America. We’ve got to let the American people know that. I am confident that when we do that, we can in fact pass a humane and strong comprehensive immigration bill.”
Warren said in order to pass meaningful immigration reform the filibuster needs to be eliminated.
“We can get it through the House without a problem because we have a Democratic majority,” she said “The problem is the Senate. The problem in the Senate is the filibuster. In the Senate … you can’t win with just 51 votes. It takes 60 to make it happen.”
As long as the filibuster is in place, “immigration reform that is meaningful and that doesn’t have terrible provisions” can be be blocked by a minority of Senate Republicans, Warren said.
After eliminating the filibuster, she added, legislation would only need 51 votes to pass.
“It’s not enough to go out and say, as candidates have, ‘I have a good immigration plan,’ ” she continued. “You also need a good plan for getting it enacted.”
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