Domestic Workers Advocate Wins MacArthur Genius Award

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Ai-jen Poo with members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance at a rally in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Bekah Mandell)

Ai-jen Poo, a labor organizer for America’s nannies, house cleaners and home care attendants, has been named a MacArthur “genius” for 2014.

Poo joins a list of esteemed members of the MacArthur Fellows Program, which recognizes “exceptionally creative individuals with a track record of achievement and the potential for significant contributions in the future.”

She told that she plans to use the $625,000 that comes along with the award to set up a fellowship program for domestic workers and caregivers to give them “focused time working with me” on shaping policy for the future.

“These are 21st century jobs that should be jobs that women can not only survive but thrive on. And domestic workers have a tremendous amount of insight on what needs to change in our public policy to fully unleash the potential of the most invisible among us,” she said.

Bill interviewed Poo and Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, in 2012 about activism dedicated to restoring workers’ rights.

Poo has been organizing domestic workers, the majority of whom are women, for the last 15 years. She’s given voice to a group of an estimated one to two million workers who have been largely ignored by society, meeting them in parks, on buses, and other gathering places to hear their stories, give advice and help develop a framework for legal standards for the industry.

After a challenging, multi-year legislative campaign led by Poo and others, New York state enacted in 2010 the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which entitles workers to overtime pay, a day off each week, protection from discrimination, and three days paid leave per year. Poo is currently the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations.

Historian Peter Drier named Poo one of 19 Activists to Watch for last year, and she was featured in Rising Voices for a New Economy, a segment this year on community organizing.

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