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'We Just Want To Be Heard': Black Immigrant Domestic Workers In Mass. Face Confluence Of Pandemic Challenges

A woman uses a gloved hand to wipe down a doorknob. (FG Trade/Getty Images)
A woman uses a gloved hand to wipe down a doorknob. (FG Trade/Getty Images)

Scores of Black immigrant domestic workers in Massachusetts told researchers they have either lost their jobs or worked fewer hours amid the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by The Institute for Policy Studies and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Jobs like nannies, house cleaners and personal caregivers often fall within the domestic worker field.

Among the 171 Massachusetts workers who responded to the survey, 56% said that they fear eviction or having their utilities cut off after losing their jobs.

For those who have been working during the pandemic, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a challenge. More than half of the workers surveyed said that they did not receive any safety clothing or PPE from their employers.
Researchers also surveyed 413 workers from New York City and 227 workers in Miami-Dade, Florida.

Forty-one-year-old Lydia is originally from Uganda and has lived in Massachusetts for 15 years. She was taking care of an 86-year-old Boston woman before the pandemic. We've agreed to only use Lydia's first name because she's afraid her immigration status could prevent her from getting another job.

Lydia said she was let go from her caregiver job in April with a day's notice.

"They had that fear that I might bring in the virus due to the fact that I was also using public transportation," Lydia said.

She hasn't heard from her former employers since.

"Right now, we just want to be heard because America has never valued workers like us, domestic workers. And then boom, the pandemic hit and right now we are like essential workers but we are not valued.

Lydia

Ninety-five percent of the undocumented workers surveyed in Massachusetts say they're afraid to seek any sort of governmental assistance due in large part to confusion around President Trump's changes to what's known as the "public charge" rule. The process is designed to determine whether immigrants are likely to become a financial burden on the U.S. government.

Aimée-Josiane Twagirumukiza, an organizing director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said in a press release that Black domestic workers are facing a pandemic within a larger pandemic.

“Black domestic workers have stretched their dollars to keep the lights on after losing jobs and income. All of them have experienced these challenges while also facing the impact of police violence on their community," Twagirumukiza said.

The alliance is calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act which would offer job security and stimulus payments to eligible workers living in the country without documentation.

For Lydia, talking about the confluence of obstacles she and others are facing is an opportunity.

"Right now, we just want to be heard because America has never valued workers like us, domestic workers," Lydia said. "And then boom, the pandemic hit and right now we are like essential workers but we are not valued."

This article was originally published on June 16, 2020.

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Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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