A year and a half after the pandemic began, domestic workers — such as home health aides or nannies — still face staggering day-to-day challenges. These essential workers have little job security or protections to keep them safe from COVID-19.
Glenora Romans, who cleans homes and provides home care in Houston, faced obstacles throughout the pandemic because most of her clients weren’t allowing people in their homes. Romans says she received unemployment benefits, but it wasn’t enough to pay her bills and rent.
Romans tried to stay with friends but many said they couldn't accommodate her three children, she says.
“The place I was staying, they asked me to pretty much get out,” she says. “It was very challenging for my kids and I.”
Romans wasn’t able to return to work until this February, she says. Even now, her hours are limited and she can’t afford to fix her car’s transmission.
“I had to depend on other people to assist me,” she says, “and it's been pretty rough for me.”
Romans turned down some jobs to stay home with her two younger children who are 6 and 8. Sometimes she brings her kids to work or puts them in different activities.
Romans’ children are not eligible for the vaccine and she faces greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 since she works in homes. Romans says her clients do not provide personal protection equipment, which is expensive.
“There was a home that I went to recently and when I got there the client asked someone that was there to spray me with some Lysol,” she says.
Romans — who has a bachelor’s degree in health information management — has been searching for a job in medical billing. So far, she says she’s been unsuccessful in securing a job so she resorts to home care work.
“It's still challenging and I try to be supportive of other care workers,'' Romans says, “and so that's strengthened me because when I help other people then I feel that sense of joy and purpose so it keeps me going.”
Ai-jen Poo, the executive director of the advocacy organization, has seen a slow and steady return of domestic work. However, she says a quarter of domestic workers remain unemployed.
Domestic workers continue to face barriers because of the delta variant, Poo says. Many domestic workers have young children who are unvaccinated and face a lack of child care options, she says.
On top of that, she says about 81% of domestic workers came into the pandemic without any paid sick days. Poo is pushing to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, which would give domestic workers paid sick time, protection from sexual harassment, and health and safety precautions.
“When you’re working in a private home setting, hidden behind closed doors, nobody really knows you’re working there,” Poo says. “Really you could go into any neighborhood and not know which homes are workplaces. There is no registry.”
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She says more work needs to be done to ensure there are agreements, fair scheduling and protection for the people working in these isolated conditions.
Domestic workers are vaccinated at a high rate, she says, because they work with people who are the most vulnerable to the virus, including unvaccinated children.
The average home care worker earns about $17,000 per year, she says, and they pay out of pocket for regular COVID-19 tests, PPE and safer modes of transportation to minimize exposure to the delta variant.
“I think we've seen really clearly among domestic workers,'' Poo says, “it's often the people with the least amount of power and resources who are bearing the burden of safety for our entire society.”
This segment aired on August 12, 2021.