For the millions of domestic workers across the United States, the upcoming midterm elections present an opportunity to mobilize around the issues that deeply connect them. Over the last five years, Care in Action, a nonpartisan group dedicated to fighting for dignity and fairness for these men and women has been working to ensure that their voices are not sidelined. Today, the group is heavily focused on making that happen through the election of Black women. Across seven states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, the organization has helped to elect dozens of women of color and championed and won policies that center or directly impact women of color. From massive voter mobilization campaigns to endorsing women of color, Care In Action is advocating for representation on the 2022 midterm ballot.
“Although Black women haven’t always been encouraged to step into leadership—or given the support—we know that when Black women lead, we all win,” says Hillary Holley, Executive Director of Care in Action. “Dorothy Lee Bolden started the modern-day domestic workers' movement in Atlanta when she founded the National Domestic Workers Union of America in the 1960s. Her one stipulation: every member must register to vote. Bolden understood the power of Black women in politics—both at the polls and in office—and we’re continuing her organizing and political legacy.”
Holley tells EBONY that Care In Action is supporting Black women candidates because when Black women have seats at policymaking tables, “we uplift and advocate for policy that not only improves our lives but the lives of everyone around us.”
In 2022, a historic number of Black women will be on the midterm ballot. The mighty voting bloc has taken its reputation as the backbone of the Democratic party and has parlayed it into seats in political office. And yet, even with the overwhelming strides we’ve made, Black women still remain underrepresented in policy. Holley says that underrepresentation extends to both government and policies that center our needs and interests.
“I’ve seen this firsthand in Georgia, when Black women—specifically Black women in rural Georgia —showed up to flip Georgia blue in 2020 and install a Democratic federal trifecta. And yet, policies that would directly impact our lives are met with tremendous obstacles or fail to address the unique challenges we face,” Holley asserts. “Black women still face immense disparities when it comes to pay equity, health equity, and so much more.”
By backing Black women candidates, Care In Action believes that equitable change will take place—particularly for the nannies, house cleaners and home care workers who take care of what’s most important: our children, homes, and loved ones. The overwhelming majority of domestic workers (91.5 percent according to Care In Action) are women of color and immigrants whose work in private residences introduces unique challenges to improving workplace conditions and organizing workers. “The history of this work is rooted in slavery when enslaved Black folks and especially Black women did domestic work for free,” Holley explains. “They were the people who cooked, cleaned and cared for slaveholders’ children.”
She adds that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced The New Deal in the 1930s to combat the devastating toll of the Great Depression, domestic workers were largely excluded because the workforce mainly consisted of Black women. And these exclusions remain to this day. “Domestic workers continue to be undervalued, underpaid, exploited and invisibilized,” Holley says. “They earn a median of $12.01 per hour, compared to $19.97 per hour for other workers. They are three times as likely to be living in poverty as other workers and less likely to have access to benefits like paid sick leave.”
While there’s still significant work to ensure domestic workers are safe, receive fair wages and are represented in policy, in the last few years the organization has worked to secure historical policy wins and set the care agenda at center stage. In 2021, Care In Action helped win a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in Virginia, the first state in the South to have one. This type of legislation guarantees domestic workers receive the protections and dignity they deserve.
In recent years, more candidates and legislators have been raising and advocating for policies that could significantly improve the lives of domestic workers, which Holley says speaks to the power of the domestic worker movement. “By raising awareness around the critical need for policies that prioritize care for caretakers, mothers, and all working families, we have drastically shifted the care conversation nationally, particularly over the course of the pandemic,” says the longtime organizer and activist. “Issues like paid family and medical leave, child care, living wages and more are critical issues that voters will carry with them to the ballot box in November.”
Care In Action hopes that by mobilizing around specific candidates—women of color who not only support policies that matter to Black women but have a record of leading and advocating for policies that impact the lives of Black women—there will be forthcoming policies at both the local and federal levels that invest substantially in home- and community-based services (HCBS) while also ensuring that care jobs are safe jobs with family-sustaining wages and essential benefits like paid sick leave. The lack of a care infrastructure system continues to leave caregivers vulnerable to economic instability and greater financial strain, especially Black and immigrant women who disproportionately perform paid and unpaid care.
“Black women deserve representation and to reap the benefits of decades of mobilizing for democracy,” Holley says. “For centuries we have taken care of each other, and we will continue to do so to reimagine our reality and clear the path for a future where we will thrive, not just survive.”