By Laura Flanders
This year’s meeting of the nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, was hailed as historic for many reasons. There were more women and people of color participating than ever before, lots of first-of-a-kind resolutions on things like incarceration and immigration, and lots of welcoming of non-union workers like domestic workers to the big, old labor family. But what does being part of the family mean?
Domestic workers know a thing or two about familial relations. Described as “dears” and “saints” and “angels” by their employers, the “help” have worked for poverty wages in miserable conditions in Americans’ homes since the nation’s birth. In the widely eulogized New Deal era, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which labor unions praised, excluded people who worked in homes, in fields and in most kinds of retail and service work. It wasn’t called “special rights” for white men, but that’s what it amounted to. Even when FLSA was updated in the ’70s, domestic workers were still excluded. They’re not workers, the lawmakers said, they’re “companions”, members of the family.