By Jose Garcia | Program Officer
Hardly a week goes by without a comment by the President, the Federal Reserve or economists about the importance of small business to our economy and job creation.
In a recent Harvard Business School working paper, former Administrator of the US Small Business Administration Karen Mills calls small businesses the core of the U.S. economy. “Not only do they employ half of the nation’s private sector workforce—about 120 million people—but since 1995 they have created approximately two-thirds of the net new jobs in our country.”
While we may all be familiar with why small businesses are so important to our economy and society, it bears some repeating: Small businesses, for many Americans, are a ladder to a better, more prosperous lifestyle. As engines for innovation, they foster competitiveness and job growth. They’re an important piece of the American dream that is still within reach for many.
Despite all the pronouncements, we as a country have very limited up-to-date data on small businesses, particularly around lending. How many small businesses are applying for loans? How much are they applying for, and at what interest rates? What are the acceptance rates? Who are the loan applicants?
We do know that the failure rate for small businesses is in the 20 percent range. And that minority firms, which are often newer and whose owners have less personal wealth and weaker credit histories, fail at even higher rates. But still we do not have the data we need to fully understand the dynamics they and other small business owners face. And without data, it’s difficult to make the right fixes.
There’s hope, though, that we can get this data. The Dodd Frank legislation includes a provision that mandates improving the publicly available data on small business loans. Dodd-Frank was enacted to reform Wall Street and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to oversee many of those reforms and to ensure markets for consumer financial products and services actually work for Americans. A recent report by the nonprofit National Community Reinvestment Coalition argues that data on small business lending should also include the race and gender of the small business owners applying for loans and other details such as revenue size of the small business and the action taken on the loan.
Small business lending has a particularly powerful effect on businesses owned by people of color and women. These businesses experienced significant growth between 2002 and 2007, during a period of economic expansion. Their rate of growth outpaced white-owned small businesses. Yet during the downturn they also failed at a far higher rate than their white counterparts.
Transparency is important because it directly influences how financial institutions provide lending to small businesses, particularly those businesses owned by women and people of color. And as lending becomes more transparent, we will be better positioned to assess each lender’s practices. One analogy is the Community Reinvestment Act, which, while not perfect, sought greater transparency in home lending which in turn resulted in significant changes in lending to underserved communities.
A similar push for transparency is necessary to further grow small businesses and help them to create jobs. Access to capital is crucial for businesses to grow and expand. Many small business owners claim that despite their good credit and sound operations, banks do not seem willing to lend to them. Yet the banks suggest that there’s not enough demand for loans and qualified borrowers are scarce. We simply do not know the real story because we don’t have the data.
When it comes to understanding local businesses, limited information is available on growth patterns, job creation or lending patterns; a critical component of understanding business growth and job creation in the US. But the devil is in the details. The Dodd-Frank mandate on collecting and making lending data publicly available should be implemented with a laser-like focus on data pertaining to businesses owned by women and people of color. While smaller and with less revenue than their white counterparts, these businesses are growing rapidly. As the demographic shift toward a majority-minority society continues, women and minority-owned small businesses will—and must—become an increasingly important engine of our economy. For this to happen we need to better understand the barriers to credit by improving data availability.
The NCRC report has the broad support of Community Development Financial Institutions, consumer advocates and Civil Rights leaders. They’re all calling for the disclosure of race, ethnicity, revenues, action taken on the loan application, and type of loan. There’s an imperative to really understand lending patterns, pricing data and creditworthiness of the small business owner.
This is an initial first step for a comprehensive approach to ensuring that small businesses really maximize their potential as economic engines in this country.
If we’re serious about creating and growing good jobs, especially in low-income communities, our focus must be on ensuring that small businesses get the resources they need. And the most important resource, besides a small business owner’s hard work, is capital. We need to know how, to whom, and even if capital is lent so that we can ensure that the process is fair and equitable.
A new paper published by The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) presents recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on the collection and public availability of small business loan data from financial institutions. The paper was supported through a grant from the Surdna Foundation.
The paper Recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for Implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 urges the CFPB to implement section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank law which requires that data from lenders be made publicly available. And, that the data is enhanced to include the race and gender of the small business owner applying for the loan and other details such as the revenue size of the small business and whether the loan application was approved or rejected.
“The collection and public reporting of small business lending data was mandated by Dodd-Frank to shine a light on lending activity and inactivity when it comes to serving women-owned, minority-owned and small businesses,” said NCRC’s President and CEO John Taylor. “It is absolutely critical that the CFPB move forward with requiring the reporting of robust small business loan data. It is also important that they make the data easily accessible. Better data will help to motivate responsible lending to underserved communities and improve access to credit. Congress put this data collection into law and it’s time for the CFPB to put it into action.”
NCRC provides recommendations on the types of data that should be collected, the institutions that should be required to report the data, and how the data should be collected and made accessible:
About the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC):
The National Community Reinvestment Coalition is an association of more than 600 community-based organizations that promote access to basic banking services, including credit and savings, to create and sustain affordable housing, job development and vibrant communities for America’s working families.
The Surdna Foundation is seeking a Program Associate for its Strong Local Economies Program. The position combines program and administrative responsibilities with active engagement in grant making, relationship management, and internal/external communications.
By Amy Morris | Program Officer, Strong Local Economies
The organizations we’ve funded to wage job quality campaigns are like a sports car stuck in overdrive—they’re focused on the road ahead, with no time to take in the landscape as they nail the accelerator to the floor.
In the work that they do, long stretches can pass—at full speed—without a hint of the checkered flag of victory. It can feel isolating and exhausting. But still they push ahead, undaunted. July 2014 has been a whole different story. It seems nearly every week, and then almost every day, there has been more good news. And hope that perhaps all this progress is starting to add up to something truly meaningful for working people, their communities and local economies.
On July 2, after years of tireless work by Surdna grantee National Domestic Workers Alliance, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice and their allies, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Massachusetts Domestic Worker Bill of Rights into law. The state is now the fourth in the country to sign legislation that guarantees the Bay State's more than 60,000 in-home workers basic labor protections including defined working hours and freedom from sexual harassment, trafficking and retaliation for complaining about wage violations.
On July 22, the White House honored three of our grantees – Restaurant Opportunities Center, National Employment Law Project, and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage – as “Champions of Change,” highlighting their important work to raise the minimum wage and elevating their work to a high national profile.
The following day, Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Schedules that Work Act, to address unpredictable and unstable work schedules that force many employees into a position of being perpetually “on call.” Constant uncertainty and instability is exhausting for workers, who must often try to fit childcare, school, medical appointments or second jobs around unpredictable schedules. They never have anything resembling a routine. And their paychecks are inconsistent. The Schedules that Work Act would mandate that employees in some industries receive schedules in advance, be paid for at least four hours on a shift, and protect workers from retaliation if they request more flexible, predictable or stable schedule from their employer.
And Carrie Gleason of the Center for Popular Democracy, another Surdna Foundation grantee, was featured in the New York Times Room for Debate on the same day.
As is often the case, on the predictable scheduling issue, San Francisco led the way as a coalition of groups, led by a local affiliate of Surdna grantee Jobs with Justice, succeeded in getting the Board of Supervisors to take up a Retail Workers Bill of Rights to address the unstable schedules that make it difficult for retail workers to earn a living and plan for basic needs like child care.
On July 28, San Diego and Eugene, OR passed earned sick time laws, expanding access to a crtical employee benefit. Surdna-funded Family Values @Work has played an important leadership role in these campaigns and the nationwide earned sick days movement. And Economic Policy Institute has also contributed key research to the efforts.
July 29 delivered a very important legal victory when the National Labor Relations Board found that McDonald’s is a ‘joint employer’of workers at its franchised restaurants. The ruling recognizes that the McDonald's Corporation so closely controls and oversees its franchisees that they, together with the franchisees, can be held accountable for practices that violate employees’ rights. This ruling is a major bump for minimum wage campaigns around the country. They need this kind of legal framework to ensure franchises and contractors can also be held accountable for compliance with laws such as minimum wage and earned sick time.
On the next to last day of the month, workers in New York City were permitted to start using sick days they have earned under a new law that extends the city’s sick leave to an estimated 1.2 million working people who previously had no access to paid time off to recover from illness or injury. Several grantees were central to this policy win and expansion – Make the Road New York among them.
And finally, on July 31 President Obama signed an Executive Order that discourages federal agencies from contracting with companies that violate labor laws. And it requires federal contractors to disclose any record of wage, labor and anti-discrimination law violations. A recent paper by grantee Demos foreshadowed this lever for change when it asserted that by using the “over 1.3 trillion dollars in federal purchasing, the President of the United States can place over twenty million Americans on a pathway to the middle class.”
And of course in July, Mary Poppins made headlines when she declared, to a startled Jane and Michael Banks at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, that “the pay’s too low. I can’t live on this dough!” Before fetching her umbrella and quitting, the world’s most famous nanny suggested to her employer’s children that “Just a $3 dollar increase can make a living wage, it makes a living wage. It makes a living wage."
Recognizing and rewarding innovation and growth in small business lending.
The Small Business Leader Award for Mission-Driven Lenders, the first-ever award to recognize innovation and growth in mission-driven small business lenders, launches this summer. This national award rewards excellence, builds broad-based recognition, and creates momentum among CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders.
The winner of the 2014 Small Business Leader Award will receive a cash award of $75,000, recognition at the OFN Annual Conference in Denver, October 2014, and other marketing and PR opportunities.
The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a Chicago-based nonprofit with expertise in water management and urban flooding and a Surdna Foundation grantee, launched a new resource to help individuals, businesses, and communities find solutions to the problem of too much or too little water. CNT’s Rain Ready initiative offers a suite of policies and practices to help residents, communities, and states plan for weather events associated with global climate change.
Anchored around the website rainready.org, Rain Ready helps Americans, and their municipal and state leaders, approach the challenges of flooding, water shortage, and/or water pollution in customized and cost-effective ways.
“Through our years of research and advocacy on water management issues, we realized that there was something of a disconnect between information and action,” said Harriet Festing, Water Program Director at CNT. “Rain Ready seeks to close that gap by making it easier for homeowners, businesses, and government leaders to create Rain Ready plans.”
Rain Ready was developed by CNT with the support of the City of Chicago, a partner with CNT on the Chicago Sustainable Backyards Program, which ended in 2013.
“There are many actions that residents can take to address the challenges of stormwater,” said City of Chicago Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert. “Rain Ready, building off of the Chicago Sustainable Backyards program, will be a one-stop-shop of solutions that will strengthen homes and neighborhoods.”
The Rain Ready website features videos and how-to factsheets that show rain readiness in action. “Rain Ready provides much needed training and information to help families and businesses prepare for the unexpected,” said Ed Woods, Director of Community Development for State Farm Insurance Companies. “Damage from surface water can cause severe economic loss for everyone involved. I applaud the Center for Neighborhood Technology for their hard work in helping families, towns and cities better understand water mitigation strategies.”
“The user-friendly tools and resources Rain Ready is bringing to individuals and government at all levels to improve our communities is an important addition to the discussion of effective water management policies,” said Kirk Parker, Head of the Great Lakes Territory for Farmers Insurance. “The helpful insights offered by Rain Ready can greatly improve efforts to mitigate destructive urban flooding and aid in the more effective use of our valuable water resources.”
“America is getting warmer and wetter, and cities are beginning to recognize the need to prepare for unpredictable weather,” said Scott Bernstein, President of CNT. “And they need to do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank, for themselves or their residents. Our Rain Ready initiative builds on our integrated approach to water management and can help municipalities and property owners alike find cost-effective, scalable solutions.”
Communities are also looking to states for help. Although each differs in weather, geography, urban development, and population,states can draw from a broad set of actionsto help communities protect themselves now and reduce risks in the future.
“Illinois has suffered severe flooding over the past several years and people across the state have lost possessions, property and peace of mind due to flooding. As extreme weather events become more common due to climate change, we need to focus on protecting Illinois residents from natural disasters such as flooding,” said Governor Pat Quinn, who is a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. “We’ve worked hard to add green infrastructure projects to the Illinois Clean Water Initiative so that Illinois communities can better manage and prepare for stormwater issues while also protecting the environment. The Center for Neighborhood Technology’s ‘Rain Ready’ initiative continues this trend of building a more resilient Illinois by curbing flooding while providing support for residents and business-owners.”
The research and preparatory work for Rain Ready was generously funded by the Surdna Foundation, Prince Charitable Trusts, Grand Victoria Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the City of Chicago and State Farm.
TheCenter for Neighborhood Technology(CNT) is a nonprofit innovations hub for urban sustainability. CNT’s research, strategies, and solutions are implemented across America and around the world to create more equitable and resilient communities. Our 35-plus years of work in transportation and community development, water, energy, and climate have inspired a generation of new approaches and earned the highest of honors.
Purchase could support up to 20,000 good American jobs
On July 24, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) will restart its procurement of up to 846 railcars worth up to $2 billion with a new approach that can create thousands of good jobs manufacturing the trains. CTA’s new solicitation for bids will include a "U.S. Employment Plan" that asks manufacturing companies to disclose plans to create American jobs and opportunities for disadvantaged American workers, and evaluates the quality of their responses with a system of price credits. With the U.S. Employment Plan, the purchase could support up to 20,000 good American jobs.
The Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) partnered with Mayor Emanuel’s office to sponsor this new job-creating initiative.
“The jobs disclosure and evaluation tools used in this purchase can improve Chicago’s transit system, create good jobs, and revive Illinois’ manufacturing economy, all at the same time,” said Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “This approach to transit procurement, as outlined by the Jobs to Move America coalition, creates more competition between companies vying to create good American jobs.” Surdna Foundation supports the Jobs to Move America Coalition.
The CTA anticipates seeking bids for the new 7000-series rail cars later this year. For the first time, the agency will require bidders to provide the number and type jobs related to the production of the new rail cars, and to outline their job recruitment and workforce training plans. Additionally, the CTA will use a "Best Value Request for Proposals" (RFP) instead of an "Invitation for Bids" (IFB), allowing the agency to evaluate competing bids on a number of criteria, including the plans for job creation. The CTA will use price credits to reward global manufacturing companies that train and hire disadvantaged workers such as veterans, women, and residents of low-income neighborhoods, and those that create U.S. jobs, and build American factories. The CTA will submit its plan to the Federal Transit Administration to ensure compliance with federal requirements.
“This is an exciting opportunity to make sure our public dollars are spent to create good jobs in our communities,” said Susan Hurley, Executive Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice. “We intend to work diligently with other community partners to make sure this bid and subsequent bids are leveraged to create new manufacturing plants in Chicago, in areas where they are most needed.”
In October 2013, the CTA issued an Invitation for Bids to manufacture up to 854 new rapid transit cars, including an addendum which asked companies vying for the $2 billion contract to voluntarily provide specific information on how many jobs they plan to create in America and how they will generate opportunities for American workers.
In May 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported that the CTA decided to throw out the two bids it received from the IFB, submitted by Bombardier and Sumitomo Corp./Nippon Sharyo U.S.A., and “restart the procurement process by the summer in an effort to drum up more competition and lower pricing.” The Jobs to Move America coalition cheered the news, encouraging the CTA to leverage the railcar purchase with even stronger bid language to promote good-paying, American manufacturing jobs.
Advocates say the expansion and improvement of Chicago’s transit system is a tremendous opportunity to address the city’s unemployment crisis with an influx of good American jobs. Illinois’ manufacturing sector has declined by 20 percent over the last decade.
"By including incentives for job creation and workforce development in its procurement, CTA is using its purchasing power for community benefit,” saidEdwin Hill, President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “IBEW applauds Mayor Emanuel and the CTA for using the power of this $2 billion purse to spur job creation and opportunities for Chicago working families.”
The CTA joins other public transit agencies like the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak, that have recently included U.S. Employment provisions in their purchases of buses and trains. The Jobs to Move America coalition developed the U.S. Employment Plan model policy to help transit agencies maximize publicly-funded bus and train purchases by requiring American jobs plans from each bidding company, and including job creation and workforce training in the criteria for evaluating bids.
Every year, United States transit agencies spend about $5.4 billion on bus and rail car purchases; totaling an estimated $50 billion investment over the past decade. The national Jobs to Move America coalition – uniting more than 40 community, labor, civil rights, philanthropic, academic and environmental organizations -- advocates for cities to maximize these investments.
Surdna’s Shawn Escoffery talks about making the economy we have work better for everybody. In his Q&A, Escoffery, Director of Surdna’s Strong Local Economies program, argues that full participation in the economy will only occur when we see poor people and people of color as business owners, not just workers. He addresses—head on—philanthropy’s lack of comfort in discussing race, saying it is more than the “elephant in the room,” it’s the “whole safari in the room.”
Surdna grantees working to reestablish the basic promise that no American working 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty.
Today, the White House will name Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and author of Behind the Kitchen Door, and Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a leading workers’ rights advocacy organization, as Champions of Change. Both of their organizations are supported by the Surdna Foundation.
Jayaraman and Owens receive this distinction with several activists, advocates, and business owners committed to making a fair and livable wage accessible to everyone and reestablishing the basic promise that no American working full time should have to live in poverty.
“This award is about amplifying the voices of restaurant workers across the country who are living off tips because their base wage is just $2.13 an hour; the waitresses who deal with sexual harassment every day and are told to get used to it because it’s ‘just part of the job’; and the millions of tipped workers who are routinely thrown under the bus at the last minute during minimum wage negotiations,” said Saru Jayaraman. “Raising the tipped minimum wage won’t just help those workers—it could provide our economy with a much needed boost.”
“With the middle class eroding and income inequality exploding, raising wages should be a national priority,” said Owens. “Tens of millions of full-time workers are struggling just to get by, and we need to return to the basic rule of ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’ That’s why NELP is fighting to raise the minimum wage at the federal level and in states, counties, and cities around the country. It’s time we lift wages across the bottom of the labor market and help build a robust and sustainable economy that benefits us all.”
NELP has also played a pivotal role in key state and local campaigns over the past decade, including ten successful ballot initiatives, numerous state legislative efforts and virtually all of the nation’s city-level minimum wage laws. NELP’s support for efforts nationally and in the states has helped win higher minimum wages for tens of millions of the nation’s lowest-paid workers and their families. In the past year alone, 12 states along with nine cities and counties have passed minimum wage increases, with a number of states approving rates of more than $10 per hour and Seattle enacting a groundbreaking $15 hourly rate—victories that are changing the nation’s wage-policy landscape.
Over the last five years, ROC has won 13 workplace justice campaigns against exploitative high-profile restaurant companies, obtaining more than $10 million and improvements in workplace policies for restaurant workers. They have also trained more than 1,000 restaurant workers to find good jobs and advance within the industry, published several ground-breaking reports on the restaurant industry, played an instrumental role in winning a statewide minimum wage increase for tipped workers, organized 40 restaurant workers to open their own cooperatively-owned restaurant, and grown to include more than 13,000 restaurant workers in our membership from at least 26 states.
The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live. To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.
The ceremony takes place today at 1:00 pm EDT. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live, visitwww.whitehouse.gov/live. To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visitwww.whitehouse.gov/champions.
Steve Dubb, Research Director, The Democracy Collaborative. The interview was originally published at the Democracy Collaborative web site communit-wealth.org The Democracy Collaborative are Surdna grantees.
Very early on I was interested in women’s issues probably because I am very much influenced by my mother and my grandmother. Starting in high school I was involved in the women’s forum and issues that affect low-income women. In New York City, while I was in college, I started to volunteer for the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. We were just starting a project to organize Asian immigrant women who were working in low-wage service jobs. At the time, a lot of the garment factories were starting to close down in New York City and the women who worked in those jobs started to move into service work, particularly care work—home care if they had their immigration documents; domestic work, restaurant women and beauty parlor work if they were undocumented.
So we saw a huge increase of Asian women working in poverty wage service jobs. These are highly vulnerable jobs where women were working 12-hour days and still earning below poverty wages. So we decided to reach out to women and explore different possibilities for organizing. It was always the domestic workers who wanted to come together and break out of the isolation of their work, support each other and ultimately wanted to organize. The project started organizing with Filipina domestic workers. From there, we began to organize domestic workers of all nationalities. It started out as an Asian worker organizing project, but quickly grew to be a citywide, multi-racial organizing project.
In the early years, it was members of the Women Workers Project, primarily Filipina domestic workers, who came together with other domestic workers. Some of them had worked in Hong Kong where the domestic workers’ movement had been organizing for years and years. They have an incredible organization and they have achieved strong legal standards for domestic workers. Many of the Filipina workers were accustomed to such standards and a set contract and established paid days off and such. When they came here, they were taken aback by the lack of protections and standards. And the lack of respect and recognition that this work was real work. They immediately asked the question: the rest of the workforce isn’t organized either. We need to organize together. So they began to organize Latina and Caribbean workers. That was the origins of Domestic Workers United.
Those domestic workers who had experienced a different level of worker standards, protection and power basically knew they had to work industry-wide to establish the same power here. So Domestic Workers United was launched in 2000 to bring Caribbean, Latina and Asian workers together to establish basic protections and build recognition that this domestic work is real work and that this workforce really is a part of the real economy and should be valued as such.
We decided to use legislative strategies to lift up the visibility of the workforce and test whether legislative campaigns would help us organize both workers and supporters. We started with a campaign in the City Council that would compel the agencies that place domestic workers to notify workers of their rights and employers of their legal obligations. Roughly 15% of the workforce is placed by an agency. These agencies are licensed by the City Department of Consumer Affairs. That bill was introduced in 2001 and came into effect in 2003. Hundreds of domestic workers went to City Hall to tell their stories, and that resulted in the passage of legislation, known as the Nanny bill. Its political champion was Gale A. Brewer, who is now the Manhattan Borough president.
After we passed the city bill, we were ready for the next step. We knew it wasn’t sufficient to have workers know their rights because legally domestic workers are excluded from many basic rights and protections. So we set out to change labor law, and in order to do so, we had to go statewide. We actually held a convention in November 2003 called the Having Your Say convention where we gathered over 200 domestic workers from all over the city. We had simultaneous interpretation in six different languages. They participated in small group discussions about what would it mean to have respect at work. It was an all-day convention.
We came out of that convention with a long list of priorities—health care, living wage of $14 an hour, notice of termination—a lot of things that you might find in a good union contract. We then worked with the New York University (NYU) Immigrant Rights Law Clinic, who helped us turn these priorities into actual draft language for state legislation that we introduced in 2004. That was the beginning of the campaign for a New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the state campaign to win rights and respect for domestic workers in New York, which, after it passed in 2010, became the flagship for us nationally.
They range from state to state but it could entail everything from overtime and paid days off, to protection from discrimination harassment, a day of rest per week, written contracts are in some of the bills—in short, basic workplace protections and standards.
The visibility of the workforce was dramatically increased. There is much greater awareness among both workers and employers of basic rights. The Department of Labor gets calls from employers quite often. We’ve heard from companies like Breedlove and Associates, which helps employers comply with tax laws, that after the law passed, New York went from ninth to second among states when it came to employer compliance with tax laws, second after California. There is a strong correlation between compliance with tax laws and labor laws.
We believe that a real cultural change has occurred, which occurred not only because of the passage of legislation but because of everything that made the legislation possible, like the media work, outreach and alliance building, all of the work that went into the seven-year organizing campaign. That, in conjunction with the partnership with state Department of Labor, elected officials who championed the bill and the media visibility it got once the governor signed it, really catalyzed a change in culture. It is much more recognized that this is a real job, one that plays an important role in our economy, supporting other working professionals. The idea that domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible is something that broke through in the public imagination in New York.
When the first domestic workers bill was passed in City Hall, City Council members–one after the other, particularly members of color as they announced their votes, talked about their mothers and grandmothers who did this work. Their vote for this bill was paying tribute to the unrecognized work the members of their families did. For them, it was about lifting up that untold history, righting an historic wrong, and supporting a 21-century workforce that was growing because of the growing needs. And we saw a very similar dynamic at the state level. There were many state legislators of color–of all nationalities–including many Irish immigrants and others whose personal stories are tied to this workforce.
Organizing among domestic workers in New York was growing. But parallel to New York, there were workers coming together in church basements, community centers and workers centers in California; Washington, D.C.; and Seattle, among other places. Most of that organizing was very slow and incremental, step-by-step, worker-by-worker. In the early 2000s it was still a challenge to gather eight women in a room together. But slowly through real, on-the-ground outreach at bus stops, train stations, and word-of-mouth, we started to reach more workers, and then reach out across the cities. Having a very visible campaign in New York helped catalyze that process, as it provided a visible example that this work was possible.
I was part of a cohort of 50 domestic workers and organizers from six cities in 2007 to gather in Atlanta to share lessons and strategies. Just the idea that we could lean on each other and learn from each other was a huge incentive to come together. When we did, it was so clear and palpable how powerful it would be to have a national vehicle and voice, both for mutual support, but also to raise respect and recognition of this work across cities and states. We started to imagine bigger and bigger, even globally. At that time, I was still working for the NY organization. A year or so after the founding of the national alliance in 2007, we were able to raise the resources to staff the national alliance. A year into that, we decided to hire a national director and I was hired.
We hired our first staff person in 2008. I came on in 2009. Jill Shenker, our current Field Director, was the first person hired by NDWA.
It went from a mutual support and capacity building network where we primarily focused on strengthening the impact of our affiliates locally to starting to think about national campaigns and state-by-state coordinated strategies, and now building our own chapters. In the first few years, we focused on supporting our affiliates in their state campaigns, which we still do. New York, California, and Hawai’i have all passed domestic workers state legislation. Then in 2010, we built the capacity to launch national campaigns of our own. We launched a campaign around Immigration: “We Belong Together.” In 2011, we worked with Jobs with Justice to launch “Caring Across Generations.”
It came about because in 2009 there was increased demand for training among our members, specifically for elder care. Even for people hired as nannies, they increasingly were being compelled to take on responsibility for home-based care for the aging and for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. It was such a pattern that we decided to take a step back and figure out what was going on. And what we learned is that domestic workers are on the front lines of a tremendous shift in our generational demographics. The Baby Boom generation is reaching retirement age and people are living longer than ever … we are going to have the largest older population we have ever had and we have no infrastructure to support that. The “Sandwich” generation—the millions of Americans who are struggling to manage care for both their children and their aging parents and grandparents—are under tremendous pressure. There is very little support. If you are very poor, you might qualify for Medicaid. If you are very rich, you might be able to afford long-term care insurance. But even those supports are precarious in this current economic environment and most are caught in the middle without any support at all.
Between the struggles of families, and the vulnerability of this workforce there has to be a win-win scenario, where we could lift everyone up. We as a country should be prioritizing the caring for each other across generations. Bringing families, workers, seniors and people with disabilities together to create a more caring economy seemed like a powerful proposition in light of this age wave. That’s why we launched Caring Across Generations in 2011. It is a multi-generational movement of millions to embrace multi-generational relationships and care giving.
We worked with a broad coalition of groups to move a regulatory change at the Department of Labor that brought 1.8 million home care workers who were previously excluded, under minimum wage and overtime protections. This change will come into effect in 2015. In Ohio, where there is a rapid rate of aging in the state, we were able to move $169 million in Medicaid funding to support home and community based care.
The ACA expands access to health insurance low-wage workers under the expansion of Medicaid, in states where that expansion has been adopted. Many domestic workers and home care providers will have access to health insurance as a result. Many states, like Georgia have yet to adopt it, so this potential has not been fully realized.
Ultimately, however, we believe strongly that home care workers and domestic workers can play a critical role in preventative health care, and transforming the health care delivery system to create new efficiencies. With the appropriate support and training, care workers can help manage chronic illnesses, prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and much, much more to both support a better quality of life for the families and individuals they support, and save our health care system money.
We believe very strong a new economy is coming into being, and that the people whose experiences are the most invisible in this current economy must have a voice in shaping the future. That means small family farmers in the heartland, it means undocumented workers in urban areas, families that are facing deportation, and people coming out of incarceration. It means reaching all of those people and human potential that we want to be truly included in the new economy. We think it is possible. This is a country that has done incredible things, solved profound problems— built the transcontinental railroad, built the highways, brought the internet into all of our homes. This country has invested in that infrastructure. We believe it is important to involve as many people as we can in designing the 21-century infrastructure that we need to invest in—it’s both access to quality care, policies like paid family leave to support working families to do the work that they do, in addition to innovation, technology, and energy. It is not an either-or; it’s a both-and and we have historically been able to do those things.
Innovation and technology are essential to progress. The question is the values and priorities driving that innovation—if there are robots that are being built, they should enable domestic workers to improve the quality and increase the impact of the work they are doing. They should improve the quality of life for the workforce and the quality of care for the consumer, rather than replacing the workforce.
I think that worker cooperatives and social benefit corporations and other innovative models for both employment and opportunity should all be explored, especially a project like CHCA, an incredibly important endeavor. I know if you talk to folks at Cooperative Home Care Associates, they are not sure how replicable their model is. It took them more than 10 years to build. There was a very specific set of conditions that allowed for their model to succeed. Wherever it is possible, it is definitely worth pursuing.
I think of it in terms of different forms of power to create social change. There is political power, organizing and voter engagement are part of it. There is also narrative power – the ability to tell the story of why things are the way they are and shape the public narrative. There is also market power and modeling power. It allows us to shape what is possible and open people’s imagination to a new way of being that we want to move forward.
What cooperatives offer is both modeling power and economic power, offering us a model for a different type of employment and economic relationship. I believe it is most effective when it is alongside a strategy of building political and narrative power, but it is also powerful in and of itself. We are exploring enterprise models, and we have a lot of affiliates that are worker-owned cooperatives.
For example, in Boston, Vida Verde is a Brazilian women’s green cleaning cooperative; they make their green cleaning products themselves. The National Alliance is working on developing a social enterprise model that can create high-road jobs for domestic workers, promote higher standards, and generate revenue to support our organizing. We’re launching several pilots this year to that end.
We are trying to figure that out. Once we figure out the viable business models, then we can figure out the structural reforms that would make that model more successful. Policies that support social benefit corporations at the state and federal level are helpful. We should incentivize high-road development. We give millions of dollars to corporations in tax breaks that are questionable. Why wouldn’t we incentivize the high-road employers? In some ways, it is about leveling the playing field. We should transform our economy into one where it pays to be a good employer rather than an economy where good employers lose out.
Caring Across Generations is our movement to change care industry into a model industry for an economy where workers and consumers work in partnership to shape the future of the industry—rooted in values of connection, care, support, and practical needs of families and workers. Obviously, the economy is a vast place. We see our contribution as helping build this vision. If we can figure it out in care, we hope it will be a model for retail, restaurants, and other sectors. It is a movement. We are working at the state, federal, and municipal levels. Through the Caring Across Generations movement, we are working on policy; we’re engaged in advocacy, community and worker organizing, narrative and culture change strategies to expand access to quality care for individuals and families, while creating and transforming care jobs into jobs you can really take pride in. At the same time, NDWA is working on strengthening labor standards and building alternatives to support dignity and opportunity for the domestic workforce.
A mentor of mine said that you are going to have problems no matter no what. There are two kinds of problems—problems of growth and problems of decay. You generally want the problems of growth. They are great challenges to have—sustainability and how do we get to real scale and the kind of impact where every domestic worker in the nation knows that there is a movement they can connect to. There is a lot of work to do to organize, build, finance and sustain the movement. Most of these questions are not unique to us, so we work closely with other organizations to both learn and share as we experiment and build.
We have to continue to do what we do best—support our members. Leaning into your strengths is key. Whatever you already do well, that has to continue. But clearly what we know how to do isn’t sufficient, so I do believe that you also have to break off a certain amount of resources to experiment, take risks, and consistent with the notion of a “lean startup model,” be willing to fail, fail often, fail cheaply and learn.
Evaluation, reflection, and sharing out the reflections across the movement—9 times out of 10 there are local versions of the challenges we run into in national work, and the other way around. Working and learning across all those levels is key.
One is that we have this beautiful movement with 42 local organizations of domestic workers who are organizing and bringing women together locally to bring dignity and respect to this work, while envisioning a different future for our entire economy and democracy. We are growing movements. Our members are a huge source of inspiration and power.
We are also proud of having launched Caring Across Generations with our sister organization Jobs with Justice, bringing together interests that have historically been pitted against each other, to create a movement and set of solutions from the point were our interests come together. I think we’re modeling the kind of 21-century American democracy effort that will strengthen opportunity for everyone.
And we are proud of having won protections for domestic workers, by domestic workers in many of the states where they are most concentrated.
Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.