By Mark R. Day
“I’ve had contact with nannies and household workers all my life,” said University of San Diego student Maggie Wodziak, a Chicago native. “But it wasn’t until I took Prof. Alberto Pulido’s course in ethnic studies that I discovered what these women really go through.”
Wodziak is one of 18 students who interviewed local household workers for Prof. Pulido’s course, “Race, Religion, and Social Justice.” At a Dec. 5 meeting at USD’s Maher Hall, students presented their findings and gave plaques of appreciation to the household workers they interviewed.
“Once a year we pick a topic that’s relevant to the community,” said Pulido. “This year we approached Nidya Ramirez, an organizer with the San Diego Day Laborers and Household Workers and asked her what we could do. She suggested we document the lives of the household workers.”
The course coincided with the release of a national survey of domestic workers that Ramirez and her co-workers collaborated on in the San Diego area. The study focused on four areas: low pay, lack of benefits and the impact on workers and their families; the lack of enforceable contracts and substandard conditions of work, hazardous working conditions and the lack access to health care; and abuses at work with no recourse or remedies.
Among the findings were that 48 per cent of these workers earn a wage below the level needed to support a family and most endure verbal, physiological and physical abuse on the job.
“I think the biggest impact on the students is that they were forced to look at their own lives,” said Pulido. “Most had contact with household workers but never gave it any thought. We also hope to publish the student’s interviews.
A household worker’s bill of rights is now before the California state legislature. A similar bill passed the assembly and state senate earlier this year but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. Activists believe it stands a good chance of passage in the next term.