To This Group, Labor Is More Than a ‘White Man Who Works in a Factory’

LAS VEGAS — The three women knocking on doors around Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon wanted to talk to people about the importance of voting, especially in a state with low voter turnout. They gave all the logistical details — where to go, what time to get there — and explained how early voting worked.

“Make it a family affair!,” Crystal Crawford, a social worker and a nanny in her early 30s, said at almost every house where she stopped. “My family always, always took us to vote,” she said, “So I always tell people to bring the kids.”

She is well versed in how the caucuses will go Saturday, but she and the women she was canvassing with won’t be caucusing themselves.

They are all domestic workers from Georgia who traveled here this week with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to raise labor standards for nannies, housekeepers, home health aides and others.

In recent years the group has worked to pass the Domestic Workers Bills of Rights, which would include a minimum wage, paid time off and eligibility for over time in nine states and two cities. And now through Care in Action, the advocacy branch of the group, it is focusing on harnessing the political power of the people — largely women of color — it represents.

The workers’ group brought its biannual assembly to Nevada this week, hosted a presidential forum and organized canvassing efforts.

“We want to tell folks their vote is worth it,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, executive director of Care in Action. One of the group’s goals, she said, is to help show domestic workers that the political system was “intentionally built to exclude the type of voters and workers that we organize.”

Ms. Morales Rocketto sees voting as a way domestic workers can have a more powerful role in the decisions that directly affect them.

Consuelo Perez, a nanny who is part of the Dominican Development Center, an affiliate of N.D.W.A. in Massachusetts, feels that her job is “dreaming for other people’s children.”

Ms. Perez, who was in Las Vegas for the group’s assembly, has a daughter with special needs whom she comes home to every day after taking care of another family’s children. “You grow to love this second family, but it hurts to know that those opportunities can’t come to your own.”

She supports Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, she said, not only because of his labor advocacy but also because “Medicare for All,” his signature policy proposal, would help her take care of her daughter.

“We are taking care of kids who could be the future senators and presidents of the United States. I can’t dream like that for my own daughter,” she said. “That’s why we have to do this work.”

Ahead of the 2020 election, the organization’s political arm has focused on garnering candidate support for a federal version of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, a path to citizenship for domestic workers and their families, and universal child care.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., have all said that they endorse the federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who dropped out last December, is one of the sponsors of the bill.

“Everything we’re doing in the policy arena to make jobs better is complemented by everything we’re doing to turn out voters and get people engaged, get people feeling like they have a voice in our democracy,” Ai-jen Poo, the founder and chief executive of the group said in an interview this week.

At the presidential forum hosted by Care in Action here on Tuesday morning, the room was filled with orange: The women in the crowd were all wearing Care in Action shirts. A mix of Spanish, Tagalog and other languages filled the room, with excited whispers about seeing the candidates. Ms. Warren and Tom Steyer attended in person and Mr. Sanders called in from Reno. The crowd cheered for Ms. Warren, and roared for Mr. Sanders when he appeared via conference call, a photo of him projected onstage.

Part of what Ms. Poo and her organization want to change — or correct, in their view — is what politicians picture when they talk about labor and American workers. Too often, Ms. Poo said, it’s the image of a “white man who works in a factory or is a coal worker,” not a diverse working class doing service or domestic jobs. One way to change that image: Get more domestic workers to vote.

“When we talk about building power in the economy, voting is a part of that,” said Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and a special projects director for the domestic workers’ group.

Ms. Poo said that this is the first time presidential candidates have really been talking about domestic workers since the 1970s, but that she is eager for more discussion of what the working class means in 2020.

“We are writing the DNA of the new economy because really so much of the dynamics that face workers today, domestic workers have been dealing with forever,” she said.

June Barrett, a Jamaican immigrant and former home care nurse who now is involved full-time with the workers alliance, emphasized how valuable domestic labor is, and how undervalued it can be.

“Many of the people we work with wouldn’t be able to do basic things without us,” she said, describing the importance and intimacy of home care work. She spoke about a 90-something patient she would often find on the floor when she arrived at work.

“What we need to do is place value on the work” she said. “There is no value placed on women like myself who do this work.”

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