Worker Stories

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PAULA SANDOVAL

Domestic Worker Leader

My name is Paula Sandoval. I am a member leader of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) in the Bay Area and a mother of three. I have been a housecleaner and homecare worker in Oakland, California for more than 6 years, and I am a leader of the Fair Work, Clean Homes campaign.

 

I immigrated here to the U.S. in 2006 from Bolivia, and I wish I had discovered Mujeres Unidas y Activas earlier. I think because of one’s own fear of being undocumented, it makes you afraid to seek support and you think you will be reported. Before finding MUA I worked for a woman, which we now define as a “Dueña de Ruta” or a route owner, who employs an informal team of housecleaners. There were four of us, and every day, we had to be at the owner’s house at 8 in the morning. From her house, she took us to clean a minimum of 6 houses per day.
 They were huge houses, in the wealthy neighborhoods of Oakland, and she always made us do the hardest jobs – cleaning the enormous kitchens, the bathrooms, using powerful chemicals like bleach – while she did the lighter tasks.


 

We returned every night at 9 pm to her house. We would work for 12 hours or more, but she only paid us $10 an hour for no more than 8 hours total. This means that I received only $80 for a 12-hour day of heavy work. In addition, she did not give us any rest breaks, not even the opportunity to use the bathroom. We rushed from one house to another, and she only gave us 15-20 minutes to have lunch, all squeezed into the car, under the hot sun in Oakland.

 

During that time, I did not know that Oakland’s minimum wage was already $12.25 an hour, and as a housecleaner, I did not know that I was entitled to overtime time after 8 hours. It wasn’t until 2015, that I was going through a very hard time that a friend of mine recommended I seek support and counseling at MUA. When I arrived, I had really low self-esteem, and I didn’t see any solutions. But MUA provided support, and I started to receive more and more trainings as a woman, as an immigrant, and as a worker. The organization supported me in my personal life – I felt more positive and safe from prejudice – They listened to me.

 


It was thanks to Mujeres Unidas y Activas that I learned my rights. MUA is doing the work on the issues that immigrant women face, and through MUA, I learned my rights both as a worker and as an immigrant. These trainings give me the strength to not be afraid and to organize others. There are so many workers like me who do not know how work conditions should be. Because of the nature of domestic work, it’s difficult to find information or know where to go when an issue arises.

 

That is why I organize – so that we can collectively change the culture and the conditions of domestic work. And I think this is so important for all immigrant women to have this resource. So many have experienced hardships in their own countries, and also problems and challenges here.

 

Now, I’m not afraid to speak up. I know how to manage if someone is trying to treat me badly or intimidate me. And I have become a leader – sharing my own story and lessons and inviting others to come to MUA. I am grateful to be able to organize with MUA, and I hope I can share everything that I have learned with other women because we have to support each other. 

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Ramona

Fast Food Worker Leader

Ramona is a McDonald’s worker in San Jose. She escaped a violent home life in Mexico to raise her children with more safety and opportunity here in the states. Fortunately, although Ramona has faced obstacles, she has begun to see how using her voice for change matters. Ramona advocates for workers to lift up and demand what they are due as essential front line staff during these unprecedented times.

I preferred to leave [home] before something would happen to me. [At my job there] some guy had asked me if I wanted help at work, I said no. But my dad beat me cause he said I was flirting. My dad left me in a pool of blood when he hit me, my boss had to come and get me.

I have had experiences with managers who have been rude, but I don’t let myself be mistreated. I have had problems with 3 supervisors. They would ask me to do work I couldn’t do ... my doctor had to send 2 or 3 letters before they left me alone.

Right now what is important for me is to have a Union. I try to talk to coworkers to let them know they don’t have to put up with problems. Lots of workers are scared to join in on the fight for their rights. McDonald’s is like a mafia, for example I don’t like playing favoritism. There are workers who do things to get better treatment from managers, I don’t do that. I know that we shouldn’t try to kiss up by doing things outside of doing a good job. Our work should speak for us.

They [McDonald’s] have paid me when I had to take the time off [for quarantine]. I made a complaint video and this helped so we could get PPE right away.

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Socorro Diaz

Domestic Worker Leader

My name is Socorro Diaz. I am a leader of ALMAS at Graton Day Laborer Center and the California Domestic Workers Coalition. I have been working as a house cleaner for 16 years. I want to tell you about my experience with the fires in Santa Rosa so that you can see why we domestic workers need and deserve health and safety protections.

Right after the fires, I started working cleaning houses that were in the fire zones. They were houses that had been evacuated by their owners, and lot of smoke and ash had entered inside the homes. I knew it might be dangerous, but I had to work because my family really needed the money.

I cleaned houses like this for two weeks, but very quickly I began to feel sick. I got a bad headache that lasted for months after, and I have never suffered from headaches. My skin became extremely dry and my eyes burned. One day while cleaning, I started to feel this terrible burning and itching on my face, and soon after, my nose started to bleed. This had never happened to me, but it was because I had spent a week cleaning these houses and inhaling all this dust and ash. I bought my own mask and cleaning gloves to use. My employers never gave me any protective equipment or explained the dangers of the job.

I also started having breathing problems. I went to a clinic, and they asked if I was a smoker. They said my lungs looked like the lungs of a smoker because I had been exposed to so much smoke at work.

It is important that we include domestic workers in Cal/OSHA protections because occupational safety and health is not a luxury; it is a necessity and right of all workers. Imagine, if we had made this change to the law ten years ago? How many of us would not have been hurt or gotten sick at work? Now is the time to make this change.