By Dominique Jackson
Myrla Baldonado knows that her job is important for the families she serves. She cares for their children. Cleans their houses. Cooks their meals.
But that is not how her employers see her.
“We are viewed as unimportant and invaluable,” said Domestic Worker Organizer, Myrla Baldonado.
Domestic Workers are fighting for “more regulations,” Baldonado said, adding that a bill to provide rights and protections for domestics has been stuck in the Illinois legislature.
She was one of a number of workers and their supporters who spoke on Feb, 11 as the Community Media Workshop hosted a Low Wage Workers forum at Columbia College Chicago.
Behind the doors of what keeps this nation wheels turning are the faces of minimum wage workers who earn just $17,160 annually, said representatives from Raise Illinois, one of the groups pushing for a hike in the state’s minimum wage, which is currently $8.25.
Present at this event were representatives from the Fight for 15 Campaign, Action Now, Heartland Alliance Social Impact Research Center, and Warehouse Workers for Justice, Jobs with Justice and a sea of other unions and community groups.
The lack of protections and rights was a common theme among the workers and an issue that concerned Charles Brown, a former Chicago police officer and a leader for the Fight For 15 campaign.
The Fight For 15 campaign goal is to raise the Illinois minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers for companies that make $50 million or more a year.
Chicago voters will be able to vote on this minimum wage boost on March, 18 in a non-binding referendum on at the primary election ballot.
Gov. Pat Quinn is on board to raising the minimum wage to $10.00 an hour.
Brown argued that increasing the minimum wage is a “simple and reasonable demand.”
He stressed that people who work hard shouldn’t have to feed their children off of food stamps. People are fighting for their daily needs including shelter, food and clothing, child care and medical care, he added.
Indeed, Baldonado said that domestic workers are mostly fighting for “more regulations.”
They are challenged with hazardous working conditions, no formal contract, and are subject to physical and verbal abuses, according to the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, where Baldonado also works to organize fellow domestics.
“It’s the 1936 National Labor Relations Act all over again,” said Leah Fried, a representative of the Warehouse Workers for Justice. She said that workers need to take control over their conditions, and take a seat at the table to get things accomplished.
Warehouse Workers are challenged with wage theft, discrimination, abuse, lack of basic benefits and exposure to diesels fumes, according to the Warehouse Workers for Justice. Warehouse workers go through a difficult temp-agency system to just find employment, according to the group.
These jobs are setting people up for poverty, with low wages and little room for growth, Fried said.
Janah Bailey, 21, a Fight for 15 worker-leader, is the “bread winner” for her family, working at McDonalds and Wendy’s in downtown Chicago. She has talked at rallies outside of Chicago, and spoken up on television interviews on behalf of her cause.
And her message was a mirror of what other workers at the meeting said.
“I have to compromise long term stability for right now survival,” she said.
Dominique Jackson is a Columbia College journalism student. She wrote this for the Community Media Workshop.
This story appeared in the Chicago Crusader: