Labor on the Home Front: Unionizing Home-Based Care Workers

Source: Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

Once known as “the invisible workforce,” the nation’s 1.4 million home health care aides and 1.8 million home child care providers are changing the face of organized labor. These frontline caregivers meet the personal needs of those requiring assistance, from children, to the elderly, to the disabled. Disproportionately African American, Latina, and immigrant women, these low-waged workers seized national attention in 1999 when 74,000 Los Angeles home health care aides voted to enter the SEIU, pulling off the largest successful union drive since the sit-down strikes of the Great Depression. Six years later, nearly 50,000 Illinois home child care providers followed in their footsteps. In less than a decade, hundreds of thousands of home-based care workers have entered into coalitions with parents, senior citizens, and disability activists. They poured into SEIU, AFSCME, and AFT, but also responded to community organizing efforts of ACORN, local grassroots groups, such as Brooklyn’s Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, and occupational associations, such as Milwaukee’s Providers Taking Action.

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