Zaborah Roane has worked as a childcare professional for over 20 years. Living in Raleigh, NC, and working in Durham, NC, she has a strong passion for her work helping and educating children. She was furloughed for nearly two months as a result of the crisis. She is returning to work and believes her employer is finally taking steps not taken in March by providing masks for staff and reducing children to provider ratios. Before her unemployment kicked in, she received help from the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) to help her navigate the economic impact of the crisis. She is a member of the NDWA and a leader of We Dream in Black’s Raleigh chapter, a project of the NDWA to empower Black domestic workers.
Johnnie Kallas: How long have you worked in the field?
Zaborah Roane: I have been in the field as a childcare professional for over 20 years. I have worked as an infant teacher all the way up to teaching five-year-olds. I also owned my own in-home daycare facility a few years ago. I am both an employee and an entrepreneur also.
J: Do you belong to an official union?
Z: I am a member of the Domestic Workers Alliance. At the moment we do not have any union, that’s as close as we can get to a union. No official position with NDWA, but we have a subsidiary group We Dream in Black and I am the leader of the Raleigh chapter. Working with them for about a year and a half.
J: Could you describe your work?
Z: Prior to coronavirus I was a toddler teacher at a chain center. My children were 15-24 months old. I was the lead teacher in the room. I was responsible for lesson plans, all age-appropriate activities, making sure materials provided for, nurturing, children changing, assisting in developmental learning, and how to socialize, things like that.
J: What motivated you to get into this work in the first place?
Z: Initially when I was younger I wanted to be a nurse but I had my daughter at a very early age and she was kind of sickly. I missed too many days in my nursing school and therefore I couldn’t finish my nursing program because she had asthma really bad back then and back then you had to take your child back and forth to the doctor. Because of that I ended up going into the early childhood profession and changed my major. It was going to allow me to be a mom and a full-time employee and have children that I can bring to work. I made a great decision going into early childhood. It was a passion I didn’t know I had until I started working in it and it has become my passion for over 20 years.
I do not have my own center anymore, I work for someone now. I work at a chain center now. I work in Durham, NC but I live in Raleigh, NC.
J: How has coronavirus impacted your work?
Z: Initially coronavirus impacted my work back in March. Our hours were reduced because parents were able to withdraw without paying tuition and so we only had about 20 children. We initially had about 125 students enrolled. Enrollment dropped drastically so our hours were cut and we were forced to go home without working full paychecks. About a week or so after that we were given the opportunity to either come to work full time or take an option to work a few hours. I chose the fewer hours/week and go home because at that point they didn’t have anything in place to protect us from the virus and I felt like I needed to be home to be more protected. About a week after that we were all furloughed. I have been furloughed since March 27th. I’m actually going back to work on Monday (May 18th).
J: Have any safety precautions been put into place?
In March we weren’t provided with any PPE. Our suppliers weren’t even able to send paper towels and wipes that we needed for the children. We kept seeing administration going back and forth bringing us different wipes. We were told that the trucks didn’t come in or anything so we started seeing them just making different runs to stores and we could only get one or two packs of wipes. That’s how this initially started for us. Temperatures weren’t being taken. In the entrance, parents were still bringing children in. There was even a child right before we got out that came to school with a fever. That was disconcerting. I didn’t feel comfortable anymore after that. The things that could have been put in place were not done immediately because I don’t think anyone thought that it was a real situation.
Yes, we are healthy and safe, thank God.
J: So you said you are going back to work on Monday, are they providing you all with protective measures? What does your return to work look like?
Z: When we left we only had about 20 students. Going back, and they actually opened last week with only the same 20 students, they are providing all of us with protective equipment. They have face masks enough for all of the employees. We can also wear our own. They said that the supplier has an abundance of it. Our ratios are extremely low. They are keeping one teacher or one set of teachers with a group of children so we won't have any floaters coming in and out of our classroom like we did before. The ratio is super low now. I got the updated practices on moving forward and how things would be handled. There is a person there just to clean and sanitize everything. Every time a classroom leaves off a playground someone will go out there and sanitize before the next classroom goes out. It seems like, from what I can tell at this moment, they have systems in place to make sure that we are all safeguarded. The only thing is that the children won’t be facemasks. It’s suggested for children but if they refuse or don’t want to wear them they are not mandated to wear them. Anyone under 2 years old is considered to be a suffocation hazard. All staff is required to wear face masks.
J: Do you feel safe going back to work on Monday?
Z: I am torn between it. I know at some point I need to get back out there and go back. If I could I would wait until there are no more infectious people. If we found out that no one else was getting sick and dying, not just flattening the curve but the curve is gone. But realistically that could take several more months. I feel more comfortable going back in knowing that we have such a low enrollment. If we were fully enrolled, then I would probably still be very alarmed. Since the class I am going into will only have four children I think that I can handle it a lot better than it being a classroom filled with 10 or 15 kids.
J: How have you navigated the economic impact of this crisis?
Z: Initially it was not easy to navigate at all. Once our hours were cut it was hard to pay some bills because we already don’t make that much as it is so having a reduced paycheck when you already living paycheck to paycheck poses a problem. Once we were furloughed and then it was time for us to file for unemployment. That was also another situation because that took at least three weeks to kick in. There was a big gap with no income at all.
Thank goodness for National Domestic Workers Alliance that they were able to send out funds for domestic workers to the coronavirus relief fund to assist us in need. That was a huge help and it came right on time. The fund is still ongoing for domestic workers. That fund came in the form of a Visa card so it could be used wherever you needed to use it. The most helpful thing. I really cried the day it came in the mail because it was so crucial. Because the government tells you they will pay you back pay and all that for unemployment but it’s the now. With stores and everything that were running out of supplies and you don’t have any money to even try and grab those supplies that were left, it was just hard. We Dreaming Black came in and had a $75 fund for members. If there was someone with high risk they would go out and purchase things and do a door drop-off for members. They definitely made sure that members who needed help and assistance, whether financial, PPE, cleaning supplies, they went above and beyond for domestic workers. If we know of other domestic workers not necessarily connected they still helped them also if they had the funds. As far as ongoing, from the beginning, they have kept us up to date with everything from knowing our rights to unemployment and the different types of unemployment benefits you could get. Knowing your rights as far as this pandemic and being in this pandemic what you can ask from your employer, what you can request in terms of having PPE. They had your back. They were more like our union through this pandemic, even before and definitely well after this.
J: What do you see as the future for the labor and social justice movements as these organizations have clearly made such a big difference?
Z: I would hope that we can see more workers being involved going forward. At this moment we are reaching out to other co-workers and having them reach out to other co-workers, family members, friends, people both in the industry and not in the industry wanting to be supportive of domestic workers. This is a real situation. It is so present now that you can’t close your eyes and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Calling us essential workers, but expecting us to be expendable at the same time is just not okay. We were always essential workers. We have always done the work that needs to be done that allows for all of the work to be done. In this moment we have to make sure that the government starts mandating things for us also. We can start bringing more people in and asking them how they feel about their job not providing these things for you. Some need to come to work because you’re an essential worker but they are not providing any type of protection for you. Just starting the conversation that way and moving forward is how we plan on bringing more awareness to this situation and beyond.
J: Any final thoughts?
Z: Just have your readers go to domesticworkers.org where they can learn more about our organization. They can donate or support us, if they are domestic workers or not.
Photo credit: Jenny Warburg