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The success of domestic worker organizing in the twenty-first century may seem like an anomaly against the backdrop of increased hostility towards unionized labor and an overall decline in wages and benefits for workers. The contemporary domestic worker movement, beginning in the 1990s, builds upon centuries of organizing and agitation by domestic workers and others for a cultural shift that values domestic labor as real work. The current movement fundamentally alters past organizing models, linking the struggle to a broader movement for social justice. Unlike past organizing efforts, domestic workers are at the helm of the contemporary movement. They have made significant strides, through their leadership and visibility, moving the cultural paradigm and building a broad-based alliance with labor, social justice activists, faith-based organizations, women’s groups, and students. Using a historical lens, this article analyzes the contemporary domestic worker movement’s success and momentum in transforming cultural attitudes toward favoring the legal protection of domestic workers. Part II will discuss the reasons why domestic work has not been valued historically. Part III will trace the history of domestic worker organizing, focusing on three organizing models that helped alter the societal framework. Part IV analyzes the contemporary organizing models used in New York and California for domestic labor reform. Part V discusses the next frontier in domestic worker organizing: building transnational unity and power.


This article originally appeared in the Albany Law Review. Posted with permission.