Saturday, June 13, 2009

Being the Oaks of Righteousness: Domestic Workers United

This blog was first posted on God's Politics, Wrecked for the Ordinary and Esther's Call.

As NYFJ continues Just One Day I am choosing to contribute by supporting Domestic Workers United (DWU) in two ways: praying for their work and attending to the June 20th combined NYFJ House Gathering (see Nyfj calendar) where I will pray for DWU with NYFJ, Harlem House, and Radical Living. Read below how these women (many who are STRONG Christians) are living out Isaiah 61! Governor Patterson is in support of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights which is a miracle becasue since the 30's this form of labor has been left out of workers rights legislation. Read Governor Patterson's words to gain a historical understanding of why the work of DWU is important:
"If you read back in the 30s, the reason that these workers and farmworkers did not receive those equal benefits it's because the southern Senators wouldn't vote for it. It really began with the racism of the mid 20th century. Uh, clearly in the law these workers deserve equal rights and if they are able to pass the Bill or if they are able to get the legislature to even come back, I will sign it."

In the fall of 2007, not long after I started to work with New York Faith & Justice, I learned of an in-depth Bible study on Isaiah 61, which revolutionized my approach to the ministry of ending poverty. I learned that this passage declares the poor “the oaks of righteousness,” and says “that THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated.” Instead of the poor just being passive recipients of the gospel, the poor are called to rebuild and restore their communities!

If you are a person of privilege, instead of working for the poor you are called to work alongside the poor. And if, like me, you come from the ranks of the poor, you are called to rebuild and restore your community.

I see this at work in the words and actions of Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell of Domestic Workers United, whom I met because they are nominated for the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Program:

“I want to be in tune with my maker.”

“I pray for the organization to get the (Domestic Workers) Bill of Rights passed.”

“Without God we can’t do anything.”

“I put fliers in the churches, I speak to the pastors.”

–Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell, leaders in Domestic Workers United (DWU)

“We have a dream that one day, all work will be valued equally.”

-Mission of Domestic Workers United

DWU is:

an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York, organizing for power, respect, fair labor standards and to help build a movement to end exploitation and oppression for all.

Stories of illegally low wages, verbal, physical, and even sexual abuse are all too common for domestic workers across the country. It’s not unusual for DWU to protest in front of luxury condos in Manhattan while advocating for a member who was treated unjustly on the job. In New York City alone, there are more than 200,000 nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers who are essential to the city’s economy. The current economic crisis is further affecting this already vulnerable group.

This invisible but essential part of our workforce is now becoming visible through the work of being the oaks of righteousness Isaiah prophesied about. It only takes a few minutes of listening to these activists’ testimony to see that God is central to this work and provides these dynamic women with the courage they need to organize. When members of DWU do educational/outreach sessions, they do more preaching than speech giving; one member is currently studying to become a minister.

Historically, domestic workers have been excluded from legal protections and face long hours, low pay, and no benefits. So DWU is advocating for the passage of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which would:

guarantee basic work standards and protections: time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 hours per week; one day off per 7-day calendar week; and other basic employee rights that most of us take for granted. The bill provides a means of enforcing these standards in court.

As a progressive Christian movement continues to solidify, it is exciting — but we must not stop at “preaching the good news to the poor,” because that is only half of the prophet Isaiah’s message. Now we need to move into the second part of this word: standing beside the poor as they become oaks of righteousness and speak for themselves.

One way to do this is to support DWU’s work in one of these practical ways:

  • Speak to your church or organization about, and have it endorse, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. For info, visit
  • Give information about DWU to a domestic worker you know, in church or out.
  • If you employ domestic workers, practice fair labor practices.
  • Volunteer for, intern with, or donate to DWU.

Onleilove Alston is a former Beatitudes Society Fellow at Sojourners. She serves on the Servant Leadership Team of NY Faith & Justice, is a nominated Poverty Scholar and a Faithful Democrats Fellow.

No comments:

Post a Comment