Who's Behind a New Hotline for Some of the Most Exploited Workers in America?

When we picture the working class, we tend to fall back on that old image of factory workers and teamsters, plumbers and electricians—sturdy masculine mainstays of blue-collar America. In truth, things look a lot different now, amid dramatic demographic changes in the working class that Tamara Draut documents in her excellent recent book, Sleeping Giant. Service workers of color loom large, especially women. Those with the proverbial lunch pail might be Latina or Filipina, and the “factory gates” in question might well stand over a tasteful welcome mat.

Largely composed of women, many of them low-income immigrants, and working in isolated conditions, the home care workforce often faces exploitation and abuse. In 2014, the Fair Labor Standards Act was finally updated to include this class of workers, but that’s only a start. As the field continues to grow, groups like the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) are pushing for better labor protections. And as we've reported, some funders are rallying behind them.

Early this year, we covered the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s partnership with NDWA on the Good Work Code, an effort to protect care workers from potential labor threats in the gig economy. Other givers in this area include the Ford Foundation, Kellogg, Atlantic Philanthropies, the California Wellness Foundation, and the Altman Foundation.

The Good Work Code, as we pointed out, is a pretty innovative effort to partner with companies to raise labor standards for home health workers, and you can see why RWJF put into $400,000. 

Well, now comes news of a much smaller grant for NDWA, by a much smaller funder, one that's also for a smart project: Giving homecare workers better information.

With a $25,000 grant from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), NDWA will pilot a “National Homecare Workers Hotline” in New Mexico and Georgia, two states with high numbers of workers in this field. The hotline will provide these vulnerable workers with information about their rights, connect them with legal assistance, and serve as a model for a national rollout.

The money comes from UUSC’s Human Rights Innovation Fellowship, a yearly program providing project funding around a specific theme (last year’s theme was the right to water; this year, it’s economic justice). An innovation focus is encouraging. UUSC, with its limited resources, isn’t a prominent funding source. But it's not afraid to be on the cutting edge of social justice issues. 

A nonsectarian organization, UUSC works around the world to challenge human rights abuses. Its founders began their work helping refugees escape the Nazis in 1939. Since then, the organization has directed its efforts to a wide variety of human rights hotspots including Korea, Haiti, Central America, L.A. during the 1992 civil unrest, Rwanda and Darfur, among others. UUSC puts emphasis on grassroots partnerships and on activating networks of supporters and supporting organizations.

Despite its international focus, UUSC backs a number of projects in the United States, many of them environmental. Notably, the charity also supports the settlement of Middle Eastern refugees in this country, hearkening back to its pre-World War II origins. On the work front, UUSC partners with groups like the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center and NDWA.  

We’ll be watching to see how NDWA’s hotline works out, and who jumps on board if it expands to cover the entire country. There are some good candidates to write bigger checks. Supporters of NDWA in recent years include Ford, Kellogg, OSF, Surdna, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Oak Foundation.