National Domestic Workers Alliance to receive $1 million from City of Durham ARPA funding

A graphic of five domestic workers standing together

Graphic by Clara Mello

By Lucy Kraus

 The National Domestic Workers Alliance will receive an American Rescue Plan Act subrecipient grant from the City of Durham in an amount not to exceed $1 million. Durham City Council approved the grant as part of a consent agenda passed on April 1. 

Erin Carson, the North Carolina Organizing Director for the NDWA, said domestic workers are not exclusively defined as people who work in homes but also include early childcare teachers, home health aides and Certified Nursing Assistants as well as housekeepers and nannies.  The NDWA is the largest organization for domestic workers across the country and focuses on teaching workers about their rights and how to organize, she said. 

$662,600 of the $1 million allocated to the NDWA over 2.5 years will be used to fund scholarships for continuing education and stipends to support students as they take classes such as Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Nurse Aide I. Any domestic worker in Durham will be able to apply for these programs.

Carson said the organization is also hoping to use the grant money to increase legal support for domestic workers struggling with safety, housing and wage issues. The organization hopes to work with North Carolina Central University to establish a legal clinic or pro bono legal services to address domestic workers’ issues.

In addition to further education and legal services, the grant will allow the NDWA to fund a community leadership development program, workforce development training, and personnel costs for a project coordinator dedicated solely to the ARPA funds. 

The NDWA’s proposal for funds was created with the intention of aiding recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, stabilizing the workforce, and supporting workers in pursuing further education and development, Carson said. 

The North Carolina chapter of the NDWA is part of the We Dream in Black initiative, which focuses on Black women who are domestic workers in the South, Carson said. 

“Domestic work started with black women in this country against their will during slavery,” Carson said. “And a lot of the issues that we see today — with fair payment, with treatment, with respect, with recognizing domestic care work as work — is still rooted in a lot of those issues and a lot of those oppressive systems that have carried over.” 

Priscilla Smith, a care provider for disabled adults and an NDWA member since 2016, said she thinks the biggest challenges faced by domestic workers are lack of respect, sexual harassment and being underpaid and undervalued. 

Smith said many people are not aware of the specialized skill set that CNAs such as herself possess. Although she no longer lives in Durham, she said she hopes that this grant will shine a light on caregivers in Durham.

“To me, caregiving means just that — I’m giving my care to this individual,” she said. “That means whatever they need, whatever I can do to better support their daily living, that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

Smith said one of her biggest issues with her job is frequently being moved from client to client by the home care agency.  Some agencies do not want care providers to work with specific clients often enough to become close with them, because agencies want to ensure their providers do not leave to work with clients directly. 

“You want to love and care for the client to the best of your abilities and sometimes you don’t have the proper equipment to do such,” she said. 

Trevy McDonald, an associate professor at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, cares for her mother who is unable to be left home alone. 35 home care aides from three different agencies have provided care for her mother in the past year. The high turnover rate was mostly due to assignment changes made by the short-staffed agencies, and she said she often had to move her classes online after last-minute cancellations. 

Demand for care workers will only increase as the country’s population ages, McDonald said. Trusted employees can make the situation less stressful on the family and increase the care-receiver’s sense of dignity. 

“Consistency of care and having employees who really love doing this work is so important,” McDonald said. 

Carson said the funding will allow the NDWA to begin to address lack of investment on a structural level in the field of domestic work.

“We have an aging population and not enough people to care for them, and also not good quality jobs for people that are holding up such a crucial backbone of our society,” she said. 

“The time was 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but if we can do something now, we’re still right on time. It’s something that is a constant emergency.”

Edited by Ashley Santillan & Henry Thomas

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