Do we care? - Page 4

Local activists push for better recognition for caregiving professions

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Lil Milagro Martinez (left) wants all domestic workers to be treated with the same respect she afford to the nanny of her son.
PHOTO BY MIKE KOOZMIN

Erwin de Leon, a Washington DC policy researcher, opens "National Indicators and Social Wealth" with a quote from a speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 criticizing GDP as a bad measure of progress: "It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

De Leon then writes: "An urgent need met by measuring a nation's social wealth is identifying the attributes of a society that make it possible to create and support the development of the full capacities of every individual through the human life span. Social wealth indicators identify these drivers, with special focus on the economic value of caring for and educating children and the contributions of women and communities of color."

The carefully documented report makes an economic argument that investment in caregiving and early childhood development more than pays for itself over the long run in terms of increased productivity and decreased costs from crime and other social ills, creating a happier and more egalitarian society in the process.

"Nobody talks about the work that immigrant women do and how it contributes to productivity. They free us up to do other things, but we don't count it," De Leon told us in a phone interview. "We put lots of value on numbers and the views of economists. The problem with the numbers is it's an economic number that just values production."

Eisler's approach is neither liberal nor conservative, and she takes equal issue with capitalism and socialism as they've been practiced, labeling them both "domination-based" systems (as opposed to the "partnership-based" systems she advocates) that devalue caregiving and real human needs.

In fact, she seems to be even harder on progressives than those on the other end of the ideological spectrum, given the Left's stated concern for women and communities of color. It was a point that Ammiano echoed: "There's a lot of liberal guilt, but the follow-through has yet to happen."

"What this entails is re-examining everything," Eisler told us. "It starts with examining the underlying beliefs and values."

 

INSTITUTIONAL SEXISM

Even in supposedly enlightened San Francisco, things are getting worse. On March 26, following a battle with SEIU Local 1021 that began last fall, the city's Department of Human Resources submitted to a labor mediator its proposal to lower the salaries for new hires in 43 job categories, including vocational nurses, social workers, and secretaries.

The rationale: Those workers were paid more than market rates based on a survey of other counties. But it's also true that those positions are disproportionately held by women and minorities. In the 1980s, San Francisco made a policy decision to raise the pay of what were traditionally female-dominated professions, part of a nationwide campaign to erase decades of pay inequity.

"The city is rolling back decades of historic work on pay equity in this city," SEIU Political Director Chris Daly told us. "We were concerned about equal treatment of workers who were disproportionately women and people of color."

DHS spokesperson Susan Gard told us, "The city is committed to that principal, equal pay for equal work, and we don't think our proposal erodes that." But she couldn't explain why that was true. In reality, the move will lower the salaries for women that come to work for the city.

Those involved in the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights campaign mince no words when it comes to seeing the long history of sexism in political and economic institutions as one of the main obstacles they face.

"In so many ways, domestic work is women's work, and women's work has always been undervalued and underpaid," Milagro said.