Sylvia, with her husband and a Labor in the Pulpit volunteer
Domestic workers speak out from Pulpits in churches across Oakland
Pastors across Bay Area Call for congregants to "care for our caregivers"
With the California State Senate's Labor Committee expected to hear the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in the next few weeks, a broad coalition of area faith leaders opened their doors to nannies, caregivers, and house-cleaners, inviting them to share their testimonies. Many recounted for the first time personal stories that highlight the vulnerability of this workforce and underscore the need for uniform standards.
Congregants at First Presbyterian Church of Oakland heard from domestic worker Sylvia, who shared a harrowing story of cleaning a rodent-infested home where mice scurried out of the refrigerator drawers. Maria Reyes illustrated to the people in the pews at St. Lawrence O’Toole Catholic Church about a common experience many caregivers have – increasing responsibilities without increasing compensation. She revealed, “I had to provide round the clock care for an elderly woman, and then two extra people who came to live with her. I was now caring for three people and still paid $250 a week. I was there 24 hours a day. I no longer had any free time to spend with my own children and family. If I could go home, I could only stay for 15-20 minutes at a time to rest or see my family. It was exhausting.”
A dozen other domestic workers told their stories in 30 worship services spanning the Bay, from Redwood City to Pittsburg, as part of an effort to improve working conditions for 200,000 women in California who labor in private homes. Rev. Jack Shriver, the pastor of Oakland’s First Presbyterian Church sees hosting a domestic worker speaker as a way to limit the abuses and the invisibility many of these workers face. “As a Christian pastor, I believe that all work is sacred, especially the work of caring for our children, our elders and our households. I feel it is part of our moral integrity and responsibility to also care for these caregivers by affording them the same legal rights and protections that most other works enjoy.”
Domestic workers were excluded from national labor laws passed in the 1930s which granted basic rights that protect most workers such as meal and rest breaks, overtime pay and safe working conditions. AB 889 expands basic labor protections to the state's vital, but vulnerable domestic workforce, creates clarity for employers, and strengthens the quality of care for children and families. Rev. Shriver encouraged his congregation to take action and send postcards to our state Senators to support this ground-breaking piece of legislation.
This program was sponsored by The East Bay Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, a network of people of faith who support campaigns to improve wages, benefits and working conditions, and the California Domestic Workers Coalition. The innovative “Labor in the Pulpits” program, which builds bridges between low-wage workers and local congregations, launched in 1999.