Nursing workers are calling for federal help as first aiders in local weather crises

Home care workers have been overlooked in business and as political actors for too long.


When Hurricane Michael landed in Florida in October 2018, June Barrett, a black Jamaican home carer, rushed to care for her elderly patients in Miami. Barrett, who had worked as a nurse for two decades, knew that the safety of her patients was in her hands. “The generator broke and we stayed up all night to make sure our customers are safe.”

Barrett is also a base leader at We Dream in Black, a project by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Political Home of Black Domestic Workers in the United States, and the Miami Workers Center. “When hurricanes strike, we leave our homes and families behind and are asked to take shelter with our customers,” says Barrett. “Home carers are often the first responders to an air conditioning emergency, yet we rarely get the credit or resources we deserve for our work and efforts. As we experienced with COVID last year, it is nursing staff who hold the economy back in a crisis. ”

Invisible drivers of the care economy

Nearly 2.3 million home carers provide life-saving personal assistance and health care for the elderly and people with disabilities. This indispensable and often invisible work is driven predominantly by colored immigrant women – blacks, Latinos, and Asians – struggling for a decent livelihood, some of whom earn as little as $ 7 an hour. As a result, almost one in five carers lives in poverty.

Evelin Alfaro (center), a domestic worker in California, attended the Care is Essential DC National Day of Action in July. “Our essential work has not been seen for too long. This package is a door to fair pay and represents hope for all caregivers in California who risk their lives in forest fires and other climate issues, ”she said. Photo by Rucha Chitnis.

Alma Santana understands the fear of millions of American workers. As a Mexican domestic worker who lives in California, Santana has seen the many crises faced by many workers in the United States: immigration and gender vulnerability, racism, and economic inequalities. Santana is a member of Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a grassroots group led by Latina women with the goal of personal transformation and building community power for gender and economic justice.

“As a domestic worker, I did not experience the respect or care that I showed my employers,” says Santana. “I took care of your children, elders and homes, and now it is time to fight for my rights.”

June Barrett (left) listens to a grassroots Global Justice Alliance-led political education session on the Green New Deal Network’s THRIVE agenda, a plan for economic renewal that focuses on decent union green jobs and racial and climate justice. Photo by Rucha Chitnis.

Santana is among thousands of domestic workers and caregivers in California who have worked through raging forest fires and smoke and traveled long distances, often without adequate access to public transportation during disasters. “In California with all the forest fires, I see my colleagues struggling with asthma. We are risking our lives with lung infections because of all the smoke and ash, ”she says.

On July 13, Santana and Barrett joined a delegation of nurses and domestic workers in Washington, DC for the National Day of Care “Care is Essential” calling on Congress to recognize what they believe to be an indisputable fact: carers are on the front lines chain of crises caused by climate change. “Together we are sending a message that caring is essential work, and bold investments by Congress will make us all resilient to the climate change that will stay here,” says Barrett.

Care jobs are green jobs

“Put some respect on our checks!” Nurses sang as they marched in Washington. This national action was organized by the Service Employees International Union and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who believe that home care jobs are central to a healthy future for all.

Melissa Larratte (center), a Haitian immigrant and caregiver, joins a delegation of caregivers and domestic workers from Florida and California to call for bold investments in care, labor rights and climate justice. Photo by Rucha Chitnis.

Margaret Kwateng, the National Green New Deal Organizer at Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, stresses that nursing jobs are green jobs. “Nursing jobs are local, low-carbon jobs like home nursing and childcare,” she says. Investing in these jobs supports thousands of families and gives workers who are leaving the fossil fuel industry opportunities to have more equitable access to jobs in the green economy. “

Kwateng also points out that the Nursing Movement is led by Black, Latinx, and Asian and Pacific Islanders who have visionary solutions for people and the planet. “We also need to create a culture of collective care for our employees,” she says. “Building a healthy economy involves exposure and investment in women workers who are so vital to the well-being and stability of all of our families and communities.”

Rewrite the future of America

This feminist nursing movement has captured the hearts of some congressional leaders who urge Congress to boldly invest in climate and green jobs. US MP Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State, gave a fiery speech in support of large investments in care, climate and jobs at a “Go Bigger on Climate, Care, and Justice” event on July 20 organized rally through the Green New Deal Network. Jayapal was passionate about empowering the care industry and investing in Medicaid, home, and community-based services. “It means creating jobs in home care. It means introducing paid vacation and making childcare universal. That is the care industry that we need to invest in. … This is the beginning of a struggle for America’s future, “she said. Jayapal also noted that it was time for “corporations and the ultra-rich to pay their fair share” of taxes.

Yaqueline López is a caregiver and a member of Women Working Together, a Florida-based non-profit that empowers women workers, most of whom are domestic workers. Photo by Rucha Chitnis.

“Although we are vital, we don’t have decent jobs and we have financial problems,” said Martha Herrera, a member of Mujeres Unidas y Activas, at the July 13th DC domestic worker campaign in DC Health and the Health of My Community while facing climate disasters . We can’t go on risking workers’ lives. ”As Republicans launched concerted attacks on budget cuts in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the last resort for meaningful investments in climate, care and green jobs now remains in a unique process known as budget reconciliation. It is now a race against time for caregivers and members of the Green New Deal Network like the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who are calling for the passage of the $ 3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, including $ 400 billion for the care industry.

At the end of August there was a glimmer of hope: The Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the law to dissolve the budget, ending a stalemate between the Speaker of the House of Representatives Pelosi and the centrists of her own party. After the House and Senate Democrats both passed their resolutions, Congress must quickly draft and pass the full budget reconciliation bill.

“Give our checks a little respect!” Nurses sing at the Care is Essential rally in DC According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, care and housework make all other work possible, and investments in the care industry invest in our collective recovery. Photo by Rucha Chitnis.

After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a damning report in August blaming human activity for the unprecedented pace of climate change, many frontline groups expressed disappointment that their alarms had been ignored for years. “For frontline communities, our caregivers, and indigenous communities who have faced environmental and climate injustice for generations, we and our loved ones have lived with a climate catastrophe,” said Adrien Salazar, Policy Director of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. “We know firsthand that the climate crisis is here and is accelerating.” Salazar believes this Congressional budget could be historic. “This budget package that Congress is negotiating comes at a critical crossroads. This could be a transformative investment in climate solutions, care economics and racial justice. We have the opportunity to take a giant step towards shifting our economy from degradation and suffering to responsibility and caring and building a society in which we can all thrive. “


Chitnis moves

Chitnis moves is a photojournalist, writer, filmmaker and Fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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