Melissa L. St. Hilaire, the home health worker from south Florida who recently revealed how she was fired from her job due to novel coronavirus fears, has shared more of her personal story in a New York Times opinion piece that shines a light on the common struggle faced by many domestic workers who have lost clients in the past several weeks.
“The virus highlights how much domestic workers need protections, just like everyone else,” she writes. “Nannies, house cleaners and other domestic workers are not entitled to severance pay, paid sick leave, health and unemployment insurance or other benefits that would help us survive this pandemic. Every day I wake up and worry about what will happen the next day, the next week. I don’t know how I will make it through. For now, I am living day to day.”
During the National Domestic Workers Alliance call last week where Melissa opened up about her story, advocates shared survey data showing domestic workers have been among the most hard-hit amid this pandemic: 94% of respondents said their clients canceled on them due to concerns. Many, like Melissa, are now panicking about food and housing security, because 77% say they’re their household’s primary breadwinner.
“My family’s health is more important than anything right now,” Melissa wrote. “I am trying to stay positive, but I don’t know how much longer I will be able to live like this. Last week I ran out of food. A friend who distributes food for domestic workers at the Miami Workers Center told me to come by. Now my son and I are eating canned soup, some small bags of rice, chicken and cans of tuna. They gave me milk, water and spaghetti. This food will last us for a week. It is just enough to get by.”
Melissa said she’s waiting for some assistance from a Coronavirus Care Fund created by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which could help as many as 10,000 domestic workers who have lost jobs due to the pandemic but are unfairly shut out of important financial relief in novel coronavirus response packages. “Many of us do not qualify for the federal stimulus that is sending out checks to workers because we are not United States citizens,” she said.
If the federal government is going to say that undocumented workers are “essential” workers, then they should be treated as such. “We need everyone to treat domestic workers like human beings,” Melissa continued. “We deserve respect and a seat at the table. Our work has value. Without us, you cannot do your jobs. Just as we need you to survive, you need us.” Read the entire opinion piece here, and remember: If you employ a domestic worker, keep paying them for as long as you can.