Archive for the ‘jfrej’ Category


salty sunday (domestic workers’ justice edition)

June 10, 2007

Salty Sunday is back after a brief hiatus. Hopefully the blogging will now resume to its somewhat-normal frequency.

This week’s Salty Sunday will be a roundup of links from last week’s successful Blog For Domestic Workers’ Justice day, which seemed to be kind of a bust by the end of the 5th but, to my delight, received a lot more writers as the week progressed.

The ever-eloquent Sylvia perused a HRW report and reports back in her Blog for DW post. A snip of her words on her personal connection with DW:

I think my respect for domestic workers comes from my history. It’s a history where I know women like me would not have had many jobs to seek, and we would have to work in someone’s home and raise someone else’s children to get by feeding our own. It’s a history where, through lots of pain and heartache, people were dragged here and raped and subordinated and beaten so someone could tend to another’s fields, clean another’s homes, shine another’s shoes, eat another’s scraps, and forget their humanity in the midst of all that work. It’s with luck that those workers’ descendants have maintained their fight to realize the value within us, the love within us, and the pride in our energies, our efforts. We’re still mired in a society that doesn’t recognize our worth unless we’re serving its flagrant abuses of power and wealth.

More beautiful personal words, more like a manifesto, over at Blackamazon. It’s hard to blockquote her words, I hate to chop them up because they can only be fully appreciated in context. Go read them, not a long piece. Carmen at All About Race writes about her mother and grandmother, who were both domestic workers.

KC connects the DW BoR in New York to California legislation that would protect DWs in that state. Sanne at New York Nannies discusses the legislation and domestic work not being valued as real work. Over at Jewschool, the fantastic Kol Ra’ash Gadol tells a story about a 19th century rabbi with a heightened sensitivity and appreciation for the hard work of his domestic worker and moves into the importance of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (BoR). She stresses that according to Jewish law, we are all subject to the same regulations and should be treated the same, regardless of immigration status. Rebecca Honig Friedman at Jewess writes about the importance of being conscious employers of domestic workers and of recognizing domestic work as real work. JR at JWABlog expresses her personal ambivalence and discomfort in being an employer, concluding with pushing for the BoR as a key step in DWs not depending on the “benevolence of their employer” for good working conditions.

For some high-traffic DW blogging, there was some linkage over at Feministing and also a lengthy and thought-out (not to mention researched!) post at Pandagon, which sparked an interesting discussion in the comments.

A short critique of some points of the bill can be read here – though I should say that this person asks why we don’t amend labor laws so that DWs can unionize, to which I respond that the fact that DWs can’t unionize is more because of the nature of their employment than because of what some law dictates. Meaning, each domestic worker has a different employer. How could DWs actually have a union with any power if this is the case? Also, this writer seems confused by my name. Saltyfemme. Saltyfemme?

Following the Blog for DW Justice Day and the successful Town Hall meeting held this past Thursday evening, Belledame writes about Betty Friedan and the DW BoR (OK OK I wrote about Friedan and she followed up). Belle also wrote this fantastic piece about feminism and the DW legislation, bringing in the BoR text as well as text from the executive summary handed out at the Town Hall.

Added June 15th: thoughts on DW Justice from Elle, PhD.

Quick hits also came in from JSpot and Appletreeblog.

Also, not related to Blog for DW day but mentionable nonetheless, following the NY Daily News and NYTimes pieces (!!) from May 31st and June 1st, respectively, this wonderful piece written by Labor Research Association ED Jonathan Tasini appeared at HuffPo and Daily Kos. NYTimes NY-metro area blog Empire Zone discussed the proposed legislation and annoying liberal NYTimes readers respond with skepticism. Following Thursday’s Town Hall, Daniel Millstone at the Daily Gotham urges readers to join Domestic Workers United (DWU) and their allies for a march down Fifth Avenue (which occurred yesterday and was moving and inspiring, by the way).

Whew. Quite a roundup. Congrats if you’ve made it this far. Thank you to all who participated in this great blogswarm. It was really wonderful to see all this great writing about an issue I have been organizing around on the ground for the last year and a half. I look forward to continuing my work with the Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers campaign with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). If you’re interested, check back here for more on the progress of the campaign.


Why I support the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

June 5, 2007


In the 1960’s and 70’s, the women’s movement empowered (mostly) middle-class, white women to recognize “the problem that has no name.” The problem, of course, was that domestic work had no intrinsic value. These women did work, hard work, for no recognition and certainly for no pay. It was and continues to be considered unskilled labor. I’d like to revisit Friedan for a minute. Feminist historical context seems key in this discussion, and text always helps me.

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling. . . I get so angry with the children it scares me . . . I feel like crying without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out on their hands and arms. “I call it the house wife’s blight” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by cortisone.” (Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique).

Many argue that Friedan’s book sparked the American second-wave feminist movement. The Feminine Mystique urged middle-class white women to get out of the house, to find fulfillment the way that their husbands do. Instead of critiquing a culture that has devalued traditional women’s work,” Friedan put all the value on men’s work, outside of the home and in an office, where training and skill is required and where the boundary between work life and personal life is clearly drawn. I realize I am being harsh on Friedan, but go with me for a second. Perhaps these women felt unfulfilled by their work because our culture is fraught with sexism and does not have the tools with which to understand the importance and weight of domestic work in both our day-to-day lives and in the long-term.

Fast-forward 30 years. Where are we now? The 1970’s into the 80’s saw a dramatic shift in the professional world. Middle-class women were leaving home to work in offices; feminism has won out! But who inherited the burden of the domestic work these women left behind? Children were still being born; homes still needed to be cleaned; dinner still needed to be cooked. And while second-wave feminism certainly left its mark, we continue to have a second-shift phenomenon. Families struggle with day care, cleaning on the weekends, etc. 200,000 households in the New York-metro area rely on outside help from nannies, housecleaners, and elderly care givers. The domestic burden did not disappear after the 1970’s. It merely shifted from middle-class white women to working-class immigrant women of color. And as Americans, we continue to not understand how to value and respect domestic work.

I’ve written about this before extensively so I don’t want to repeat myself. The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights is the only sensible next step in teaching ourselves and each other how to value traditional women’s work. The “problem that has no name” is not bored housewives. It is the continued devaluation of work essential to the functioning and success of New York City and everyone who works here. This city would simply not run without them, it is just that simple. Support the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. If you are in New York, join Domestic Workers United (DWU) this Thursday, June 7th at 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, for what promises to be an amazing Town Hall event.


Blog for Domestic Workers on Tuesday, June 5th!

May 19, 2007


Attention bloggers: Tuesday, June 5th is Blog for Domestic Workers day! The event is in conjunction with a massive Town Hall meeting and accountability session at Judson Memorial Church in New York City on Thursday, June 7th. Domestic Workers United (DWU), an organization of nannies, housecleaners, and elderly care givers, is pushing a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights through the state legislature in Albany. If passed, it would be the first legislation of its kind, guaranteeing basic rights to domestic workers in New York state. Domestic workers have been excluded from most federal and state labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act.

Domestic workers number over 200,000 in the New York tri-state area alone. They work tirelessly for low pay and little respect, yet they enable about 400,000 middle- and upper-class folks to go to work every day. They make this city run, yet they have received little recognition for this work. It is no coincidence that most domestic workers are immigrant women of color and do traditional women’s work. The time has come for the world, or at least New York City, to recognize and appreciate what a vital role domestic workers play. (more here)

No matter where you live, please consider posting on June 5th about anything that relates to domestic workers: your experiences working as one; being raised by one; political issues from your own broad perspective; your thoughts on how this issue is a feminist issue; how it relates to the other immigrant experiences; ideas on how we might frame this issue for a mainstream audience. Anything you like, just frame it as why I support the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Take part in breaking the silence on this issue. Help bring it out of the closet by doing what you do best: writing your heart out. June 5th. If you can, please link to info about the Town Hall event and to the text of the Bill of Rights. And don’t forget to leave a link to your post in the comments section of this one and if you can, please use the image at the top of this page in your post. Thank you and I look forward to seeing all of your fantastic posts on June 5th!


*UPDATED 6/1* more fantastic resources:


Long Island couple accused of abusing domestic workers

May 17, 2007

Just another reason why domestic workers need a Bill of Rights. A Long Island couple has been charged with abusing, underpaying, and overworking two Indonesian domestic workers. From the NYTimes:

Police and federal immigration agents developed the case against the couple after one of the women, identified only as “Samirah” in court papers, was seen wandering near a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Syosset on Sunday morning, wearing only pants and wrapped in a towel. Her face was bruised, and when shop employees tried to communicate with her, she made gestures of slapping herself and uttering what sounded to them like the word “master,” prosecutors said.

The police took Samirah to Nassau University Medical Center, where, with the help of an Indonesian translator, she told them that she and a second woman, identified in papers only as “Nona,” were forced by the Sabhnanis to work long hours, given little food, forced to sleep on mats on the floor, kept hidden when company came, threatened with violence, and in Samirah’s case, frequently beaten by Mrs. Sabhnani.

Nice. So now I want the mainstream feminists to pay close attention: there are over 200,000 domestic workers in the NY metro-area – I don’t even know what the numbers look like for the whole country. They are almost exclusively immigrant women of color. And they are not covered by labor laws. Talk about not valuing women’s work.

If we could pull our attention away from the pressing opt-out myth discussion for just a second and wonder who takes the place of these middle- and upper-class parents when they “opt” to go back to work? Where are the rallying cries from the feminists about double-standards, frighteningly low wages for care work (women’s work), immigrant domestic workers being blackmailed by their employers because they don’t have papers?

Plans are under way for a blog for domestic workers day on Tuesday, June 5th. Posts can range from personal stories to theory to political essays or any combination – the idea is to get the stories and issues around this important topic out of the domestic closet and into the public. These women have raised countless numbers of children who are not biologically theirs; they take care of elderly people who might otherwise have to move out of their apartments and into nursing homes; they also clean apartments so that people can work their 9-5 jobs and come home to a beautiful space. They work hard, they support their own families – and ALL of us, whether we are domestic workers ourselves, have a relative who is, were raised by one, grew up in a house with a “cleaning lady,” have elderly grandparents with live-in help, or simply understand that taking care of children and cleaning is difficult and thankless work, we are ALL connected to this issue in some way. Please consider joining me in this important project and check back into saltyfemme soon for updates – by next week, I’ll have pages for linking with the text of the Bill of Rights and information about the Town Hall event on June 7th at Judson Memorial Church here in NYC.


Domestic Workers Bill of Rights introduced into NY state senate

May 1, 2007

This exciting May Day news just in from the folks at Domestic Workers United: last week, the New York State senate introduced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (S. 5235). The bill sets a living wage, paid sick and vacation time, and advanced notice of termination for a workforce of nannies, house cleaners, and elderly care givers. These workers, who number over 200,000 in the tri-state area alone and are overwhelmingly immigrant women of color, are currently excluded from state and federal labor laws, leaving them with almost no worker protections. (to read the complete bill in all its legalese, click here, and then search for bill no. S05235).

From the press release:

“It’s about time we receive the protections we deserve. I personally have worked long hours, for poverty wages, been denied days off and treated as less than human. I don’t want another worker to go through that,” says Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, a nanny in Westchester. Employers have also expressed support for the legislation. Caroline Batzdorf, employer of a nanny, shared her experience: “Domestic workers make it possible for their employers to go to work and trust that our children and elders are well cared for. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights provides much needed guidelines for us to know that these care-givers will be appropriately supported to do the important work that they do.”

No doubt that this bill has come so far because of the hard work of Domestic Workers United, their law students, and the countless allied organizations and unions who see the need for this bill, and are pushing for its support among their members and lobbying for it in Albany. If you’re in NY, your presence will be crucial at a Town Hall on June 7th, 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church. You’ll be hearing more from me about this event as it draws closer, but please consider joining us in affirming how important this bill is and what a vital role domestic workers play in making this city run.


queer Purim

February 26, 2007

Purim is coming up, and I know that Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) always holds a fantastically queer and social justice-oriented Purim celebration. I also know that folks have been finding saltyfemme by googling ‘queer Purim’ but haven’t been finding anything satisfying (disappointed googlers find a post about growing up in a Havurah and why I hate gay marriage). Give them what they want, I told myself. First I must tell you that Purim is very very gay. Queer Esther and her ‘coming out’ as a Jew? The holiday where everything is turned upside-down, everything you take for granted is suddenly shaken loose from its foundation? Drag. Debauchery. Hello? Queer holiday if I ever knew one. You just have to be around the right crowd.

Which brings me to my announcement. If you live in New York City, I strongly urge you to get out your costume and join JFREJ for what I believe is their biggest social event of the year. It promises to be queer, so I’m told. I didn’t go last year because I was a hermit. I will hopefully redeem myself this year. I’m especially excited because the organizers themed the celebration in conjunction with JFREJ’s domestic workers justice campaign.

Saturday, March 3rd, 8pm-2am

Roti and Homentaschn: The Palace Workers Revolt!

A Purim Carnival Spectacular
Come see the hidden story of Shusan’s domestic workers revealed!
Location: Workmen’s Circle, 45 E 33rd (between Park and Madison)
to Nicole at or 212-647-8966 x10

Details: $12 at the door, No one turned away for lack of funds or costume
A raucous Purim carnival featuring outrageous performances, traditional Jewish and Caribbean food and drinks, and dancing to the sounds of klezmer, calypso, and marching bands! Revellers are encouraged to come in costume and see the Purim story as they’ve never seen it before! This event is co-sponsored by JFREJ and Workmen’s Circle in partnership with Domestic Workers United and Great Small Works.

Other resources on Purim as the homo holiday:
Gay Jews Connect Their Experience to the Story of Purim (From the Washington Post, two days ago)
Wrestling with Esther: Purim Spiels, Gender, and Political Dissidence (from Zeek, March 06)
High Healing: A Purim Message (From Jewish Mosaic, March 06) – This is a really fantastic piece – quick excerpt:

Some Kabbalists…taught that in the future days, the only two holidays to remain on the Jewish calendar will be Yom Kippur and Purim – two days that are complete opposites but are both days of sacred transformation. Our ancestors understood that the only way to live with laws is to break them from time to time – or nothing will ever change.


a little plug for the work on the ground

February 5, 2007

I’ve been an active member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) for the past year. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling experience, and not only because it provided me with a Jewish community when I first moved to New York but also because it gives me an opportunity to play a part in making concrete social change in this city. I’m especially proud to share some information about an event coming up this week – the community organizing we have been doing with the Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers campaign, in conjunction with Domestic Workers United (DWU), is moving to new levels.

JFREJ has been advocating for change in employment practices of employers of domestic workers (nannies, housekeepers, and elder-care givers) on personal, communal, and legislative levels. Through community organizing in several synagogues and secular communities around New York City, JFREJ has begun a conversation in NYC Jewish communities about the status of domestic workers in our communities.

Next Friday, February 9th, two of those synagogue communities, Park Slope Jewish Center (PSJC) and Kolot Chayeinu, will host an event following Kabbalat Shabbat to launch these communities’ collaboration on the Shalom Bayit campaign. Join PSJC, Kolot, and JFREJ for a Shabbat evening of education and advocacy. Learn about the history of the campaign, the work of DWU, some context around the domestic work industry, and a chance to hear from both an employer and employee.

From the press release:

The more than 200,000 nannies, eldercare givers, housecleaners, and other domestic workers in New York City are currently excluded

from most state and federal labor laws. A recent survey of domestic workers by the Datacenter and DWU found that: (full report here)

  • 41 percent of workers reported low wages; 26 percent earned wages below the poverty line or below minimum wage.
  • Half of the workers worked overtime, often more than 50 to 60 hours a week
  • 67 percent did not receive overtime pay for overtime hours worked.
  • 33 percent of workers experienced verbal or physical abuse or said they had been made to feel uncomfortable by their employers.

“Justice for Domestic Workers is not an option for us but an obligation. As Jews and as human beings, we are obligated to insure that all those who work in our community and especially in our homes are treated with dignity and respect,” says Rabbi Carie Carter of the Park Slope Jewish Center. “Omissions in labor law allow domestic employers to ignore basic rights of workers, and we must change this. Workers rights cannot only be a distant demand we place on large companies. To make real change in our world, there is no place better to begin than in our own homes and in our own lives.”

The program will be hosted at PSJC (8th Avenue at 14th street in Park Slope). Kabbalat Shabbat will begin at 6:15 and the program will begin at 8:30. All are welcome! Email danielle at (or me! saltyfemme at gmail) for more information.