While people limit contact with others and stay at home with coronaviruses as much as possible, domestic workers like Shephard – whose livelihoods depend on being at home or taking care of their loved ones – are particularly affected.
“The plight of the coronaviruses makes me sad,” said Shephard. “But the situation also makes me angry. Because of everything that is going on with the virus, I feel that my employers are not taking care of me or taking any measures to protect me or making any effort for me. don’t get sick. “
Shephard is one of some 2.5 million domestic workers in the United States – and she is not alone in her struggle to keep her job during the pandemic. Domestic workers provide services in the households of an individual or family, including babysitting, assisting the dependent elderly, housework and other household duties.
It is estimated that 65% of domestic workers, most of whom are women of color and immigrants, do not have health insurance. And 60% spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments, according to a 2017 survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The overwhelming majority of them have neither sick leave nor paid leave.
“This is a workforce that, before the virus, was incredibly precarious and vulnerable in terms of low wages,” said Ai-Jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “Literally paycheck to paycheck. No savings. No cushion. No ability to withstand any type of financial emergency. No benefit. No paid leave. No sick days paid. “
Customers cancel, but invoices keep coming
For Shephard, a housekeeper in the Philadelphia area, the pandemic resulted in a substantial loss of income.
Airbnb properties and the families for which it has provided cleaning services have practically suspended her for the time being, and she is looking everywhere she can for more work.
“It is so important that as domestic workers we have paid time off,” said Shephard. “At times like this, it shows how desperately we need it and how spending continues to happen. “
Shephard, who takes care of her husband and two children, said that she was most worried about paying her cell phone bill because that is how she coordinates and finds work. There are also bills for water, electricity and gas that keep coming.
One of the families Shephard works for has offered to pay her even if she no longer comes home to do the cleaning, she said. She told them not to give her the paycheque until she absolutely needs it. Although finances are difficult now, she knows things could get worse.
Other domestic workers said that their employer had not offered them any assistance during this period.
Angélica Martínez said her elderly mother, who requested that her name and age not be disclosed, been a housekeeper in New York for more than 20 years, since she emigrated to the United States from Colombia.
Last week, her mother’s clients, some of whom she had served for more than a decade, abruptly canceled just before arriving at work, said Martínez.
Considering the wide spread of the virus in the city, Martínez said they had told his mother that it would be better if she just didn’t come. They said they would resume contact when the crisis subsides.
None of them offered to pay their mother, said Martínez.
Although she did not expect her clients to pay her indefinitely for the work she could not do, Martinez said her mother was disappointed not to be concerned about her well-being during this crisis.
Her housekeeping work is her only source of income.
“If you haven’t lost your income and hire a regular housekeeper, that’s something that is in your budget. You are planning a budget for this, ”she said. “In the middle of a crisis, why don’t you keep paying them? Why is this something that needs to be asked? “
Fortunately, Martínez said that she and her brother both have full-time jobs that they can do from home. They plan to support their mother, although the money will be tight.
“This crisis really unmasks all of these ugly parts of our society and how we operate and how we treat ourselves,” said Martínez.
Workers face an impossible choice
In the age of coronaviruses, domestic workers face an impossible choice, said Poo.
“They have to make choices between going to work and literally keeping themselves and their families healthy, with no idea of the source of their income if they decide to stay at home,” she said.
To their concerns is added the fact that domestic workers often do not benefit from the same labor protections as those granted to other workers. They do not have paid leave or paid sick leave. Some are not entitled to unemployment. Others are undocumented immigrants and therefore do not qualify for federal benefit programs.
“This is an incredibly insecure way to work in our economy, and yet so important,” said Poo.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance has raised more than $ 3 million for its Coronavirus Care Fund to support workers during the crisis, the organization said.
Betania Shephard said that knowing about such an emergency fund had given her a sense of calm during an otherwise frightening and uncertain time.
With the people she relied on for her livelihood no longer supporting her, it is comforting to know that, at least for now, someone is.