Last week, domestic workers in the state of Massachusetts celebrated a huge win when Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights on July 2nd. The Bill of Rights strengthens the state’s protections for workers by providing, among other things, clarification on what is working time, freedom from sexual harassment, and, for the first time in the US, maternity leave.
To learn more about this win, we spoke with the National Domestic Work Alliance Campaign Director Andrea Cristina Mercado. Andrea originally started organizing in the Bay Area with Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a grassroots Latina immigration women’s organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a leader of the national coalition, “We Belong Together,” we also spoke to Andrea about how the lack of immigration reform continues to impact children, women, and families.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Andrea Cristina Mercado!
Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us today. First off, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on Massachusetts’s recently signed Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. What are something that you are particularly excited to see included in the law?
Andrea Cristina Mercado: We are really thrilled about the Massachusetts’s governor signing the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights into law. It has some of the farthest reaching provisions of any domestic work bill of rights yet — it includes maternity leave for domestic workers. One of the things that we are really excited since we’ve been in the context of so many attacks — we’ve had two really hard decisions come out of the Supreme Court, the Hobby Lobby decision attacking women as well as the Harris v. Quinn ruling, which negatively impacts the right to organize. I think the domestic worker win is really a bright spot in a hard time, since Massachusetts makes four bills in four years. It feels really good to be winning.
Suzanna Bobadilla: As an organization that fights for the rights of domestic workers, immigration is obviously a key issue for your constituents. Especially given the current intense dialogue about the status of children at the border, what would be your organization ideal vision of immigration reform?
ACM: I’m a co-chair for the We Belong Together Campaign, which is a campaign to mobilize women’s support for immigration reform. Immigration is rarely thought of a women’s issue, but it’s central to women’s equality when you think about the fact that there are so many women in this country who are blocked from reaching their full potential because of our failed immigration system. As you might know, three quarters of immigrants to this country are women and children. I think at this moment we’re very clear that Congress isn’t going to do anything to solve the situation — we need the President to be bold and to provide administrative relief to the millions of undocumented families in this country. We need to be sure that it’s fair to women and children.
We’re also in the midst of this crisis at the southern border where we have children and families fleeing violence. We need the President to put the safety of the women and children at the forefront of his policies. Detention centers are not appropriate housing for children, young people, and families. We don’t need new detention centers. Those are some of the things that we are calling for.
SB: I was excited to learn about NDWA’s upcoming October conference “Justice in the Home.” Could you provide more details about the event?
ACM: This is a conference where we will be bringing together domestic workers, activists, and academics — people who have really been studying domestic work over time and about different aspects of the industry. It’s going to be hosting at Barnard College in New York and we’re going to take the opportunity to learn more and sharpen our thinking.
SB: Obviously you’re a very accomplished and established organizer and I was wondering if you could share with folks who may be early in their own organizing career what you wish you knew earlier.
ACM: Organizing is a life time of learning. When I was starting out, I really wanted to cut my teeth in the Bay Area. I thought, “Oh I’ll do that for two years and I’ll head home to Florida.” It didn’t take me long to realize that ten years later, I’m still learning about organizing. I would also say to see as a resource about all of the people who have been doing this work for a long time. We really do stand on the shoulders of giants and there is so much to learn from history and from each other.
SB: And our classic final question — you are stranded on a desert island. You get to take with you one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?
ACM: I would take ceviche, water, and Sojourner Truth.
Suzanna Bobadilla wants to know who you want to hear from next. Let her know at @suzbobadilla with the Twitters.