Op-Ed: Domestic Workers Want Respect; Is That Too Much to Ask For?

NDWA members keep homes clean and safe, care for children and elders, and are denied most of this country’s basic workers’ rights. That can change, in California for starters.

sylvia lopez national domestic workers alliance

This is the face of someone who works hard to serve her clients’ best interests, like a good lawyer, but without all the benefits. (Photo Courtesy Sylvia Lopez/National Domestic Workers Alliance)

There are hundreds of thousands of reasons to pass a domestic workers bill of rights in California. I am just one of them.

My name is Sylvia Lopez. I am a single mom of two daughters—Karina is 20 and Daniela is nine. I clean houses for families in Alameda County in order to provide for my family. 

My daughters respect the work I do; they know I work very hard to put food on the table. I want our state’s laws to respect the work I do, too.

It’s not easy work. Once, a new client hired me to clean his home for four hours. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed by the smell of the house. There was dog excrement and garbage everywhere. And there were mice—even inside the refrigerator! 

There was no way I could clean that house in just four hours. But I said I could do it in 10. And that’s how long it took. I spent the first half of the time just getting rid of garbage. I didn’t stop for lunch or a break. I just kept going until I was done.

“We aren’t asking for special treatment. We are only asking for what’s fair as workers. We deserve dignity, respect and labor protections on the job—we deserve a bill of rights.”

I worked hard because that’s what I was hired to do—and because I care. The man’s elderly mother was living in the house, too, and I wanted her to have a clean and safe home. So actually, I kept working for this same family for many years. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it when you know you are making a difference in people’s lives, helping them have a healthy place to live.

The work that domestic workers like me do is very important. We clean your houses; we look after your children; we care for your parents and loved ones with disabilities. Every day, domestic workers like me make it possible for so many more people to go to work all over California.

We are the backbone of the economy; yet we have been excluded from basic labor laws for more than 70 years. It’s time for California, and the nation, to finally recognize and respect our work and grant domestic workers the basic labor protections that other workers count on, like meal and rest breaks and overtime. The bill of rights would provide us with equal labor rights and industry-wide standards so that we can provide quality care to individuals and the homes in which we work. 

We aren’t asking for special treatment. We are only asking for what’s fair as workers. We deserve dignity, respect and labor protections on the job—we deserve a bill of rights.

I work hard to help the families and the economy of our state. Will you help me pass the domestic workers bill of rights in California?

Do you feel that all workers deserve a worker bill of rights? Or are there exceptions? Explain in COMMENTS.

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