Sarah Leadem

The Changing Face of Labor: Immigrant Women, Domestic Work and Labor Unions in California in the 21st Century

Although domestic workers number nearly 2.5 million in the United States and 200,000 in California alone, they have been historically excluded from major federal labor laws and deemed “unorganizable” by major labor unions. A majority of this workforce is made up of working-class immigrant women and women of color who labor as nannies, housecleaners, and attendants for seniors and people with disabilities in private homes. In the fall of 2010, a coalition of domestic worker organizations from across California launched a statewide legislative campaign for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights along with partners among labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). My research examines the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Campaign as a flashpoint in the complex and evolving historical relationship between domestic worker organizing and U.S. organized labor. Through the lens of this case study, I hope to assess what the future of the U.S. labor movement will look like, who will constitute its ranks, what tactics it will employ, and what its relationship will be to the working-class immigrant women and women of color who labor in the shadows of the American economy.

Listen to Sarah’s presentation on her research at a CRG Thursday Forum: