By Lisa Bendoff
Before I begin discussing the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (IL DWBR), in the spirit of full disclosure, I must make the following confession: I am just a simple E pluribus unum kind of gal living in a crazy mixed up Bellum omnium contra omnes sorta world. That’s right, I believe in “from the many, one” (coalitions and allyship) over this ugly “war of all against all” that is currently being waged – particularly against those trying to earn a wage. A minimum wage. A living wage.
Disclosure disclosed. Confession confessed. I begin.
It is not every day one is approached with the invitation to become a better human being. When James Povijua, the Campaign Director for the IL Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights came and spoke before JCore, I was extended that very invitation. He began with a brief history of the long fight for domestic workers’ rights in the United states (the struggle stretching back to FDR) and the specific fight here in Illinois. He spoke of the hard, difficult work already achieved by the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition and the efforts remaining.
What I did not know at the time was that in addition to inviting me to be a better human being, James was also inviting me and the other members of JCore to take several trips down to the state capital. But that was just fine. My unum was all fired up, ready to get on a PluriBus and go down to Springfield to lobby on behalf of the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights!
These were good trips to Springfield not only for the successful lobbying that was done on behalf of the IL DWBR – and we were successful – but for the way the members of the different coalitions came to know one another. We came to know each other by our given names and not only our coalition names. We came to know each other and I hope trust one another.
Passage of the IL DWBR is serious. It will determine whether existing laws will be amended to include Domestic Workers. The passage will mean respect, dignity, and humanity. The Illinois Minimum Wage Law. Respect. The Illinois One Day Rest in Seven. Dignity. The Illinois Human Rights Act which provides recourse for sexual harassment in the workplace (often someone’s home). Humanity. How do we exclude Domestic Workers from these basic rights? How can we in the Jewish community allow this?
My Great grandmother Rose worked in a sweatshop. Piece work. Her employers thought respect, dignity, and humanity were nothing more than an appendix, a useless appendage one could remove and the worker could live happily without. Respect, dignity, and humanity – not necessary for some immigrant woman. My Great Grandma Rose was on the bus with me to Springfield. She was in the eyes, the voices, the accents, the pride, and the hope of every woman on that bus. She was there in spirit and in solidarity, sitting reading her Yiddish copy of the Jewish Daily Forward.
In addition to our lobbying trips to Springfield, several of us attended the Domestic Workers Convention in May. The first such event to be held in Illinois. This was another opportunity to affirm our relationship and build trust with our coalition friends.
We listened to the words of Ai-Jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. We were especially privileged to hear so many personal stories of struggle, fear, and triumph from Domestic Workers and others seeking social justice.
We heard from a young woman who carried a majestic confidence as she described her path from frightened undocumented girl to the proud and defiant “undocumented and Unafraid!”
Perhaps one of the most moving moments was when a young woman translated a speech for her mother, a domestic worker. The daughter, through her mother’s words, explained to us how her mother, throughout her life, worked domestics jobs. She did this for her daughter. She did this for her daughter’s education, for her daughter’s future. The goal of this life of low wages, long hours and uncertain working conditions was to give her child a better life than the one she herself knew. The daughter was translating words of love and pride the mother felt for her child, for her daughter’s outstanding accomplishments. The daughter, hearing these words for the first time at the moment of translation, could not help but break down with emotion. The mother and daughter both in tears in mutual love, joy and pride. Kvell. Yiddish in origin. Universal in feeling.
As a member of the coalition, after seeing and hearing this and as the great granddaughter of Rose, a woman who came to this country alone at the age of sixteen, how could I not have the same devotion, dedication and fearless attitude I witnessed?
Working with the coalition and JCORE has taught me that as we talk about rights, there are things I have no right to take for granted. Domestic workers take care of our homes. Domestic Workers take care of our children. Domestic Workers take care of our aging parents. Domestic workers take care of our disabled who need assistance so that they may live as independent a life as possible. And after they have taken care of our needs, it is then and only then they go home and take care of their own families. Tzedek, justice demands the passage of the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
The bill has passed both the Illinois house and senate with bipartisan support. It has now landed on the Governor’s desk. When Governor Bruce Rauner signs this bill into law, and he must sign this bill into law, Illinois will be only the 7th state in the country to have a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.
What has working with this coalition meant to me? What have the people I have met and worked with meant to me? I was going to say it has meant the world to me. But the answer is, it has meant a better world for all of us.