Thursday, July 03, 2014

Supremes diss domestic workers

While so many good women (and a lot of good men) were howling about the Supreme's Hobby Lobby decision this week, let's not forget the court's other major holding on Monday. Harris v. Quinn follows the pattern long established in our history: it is a seemingly race-neutral legal determination that will particularly harm women of color. What a shock!

Ostensibly the decision was about whether, under union collective bargaining contracts, home care workers could be required to pay union dues if they benefitted from union-won labor agreements. The 5-4 court majority adopted the fiction that, although the home care program in question was organized by the state of Illinois (using federal funds), the individual elderly and disabled clients were the "employers" and so unionized workers were not really "workers" like other state employees. Consequently these economically stressed women must be allowed to opt out of paying union dues, undercutting their union's ability to service their members.

All that is somewhat complicated and probably not a death blow to unionization of domestic workers -- mostly because such workers have been self-organizing vigorously for years.

But the decision deliberately disrespects work more and more performed by women of color. Sheila Bapat explains:

...this decision has a deeply troubling effect on domestic work, specifically, and thus disproportionately affects women of color. The Court’s ruling, which will make it harder for many domestic workers to earn higher wages, has essentially entrenched the historic devaluation of domestic work.

Domestic workers -- mostly women of color who care for children, elderly, disabled and ill -- are among the lowest-paid workers in the United States. There are some 2 million domestic workers in the country, many of whom are serving the most elderly and disabled populations as part of programs like the one in Illinois. Several states have, like Illinois, established programs through which they pay domestic workers to care for their state’s most vulnerable populations. These unions have been shown to reduce worker turnover as well as improve care for those who need it most.

But hey, five Supremes (all men) seem to think this is just about some whining, lazy Black and Latina ladies -- not real workers.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance issued a response to the Harris decision. Here are some highlights:

... The organization of home care workers has occurred over the last 30 years, by workers who diligently organized to find a pathway out of poverty toward meaningful economic opportunity. As an undervalued, under-recognized workforce, their access to wages that lift them above the poverty line and access to critical workforce training and career ladders has been a result of organizing and working together. ...

... This decision comes at unique moment. Every day, 10,000 people turn 65 in America. As a result of advances in health care and technology, people are living longer than ever. We are going to need millions more home care workers to support our rapidly growing population of older adults. We should be focused on making these jobs quality jobs for the future, with better wages, and more support. ...

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