Interview with Sarita Gupta on Friday, April 17, 2015 at the Advancing Worker Rights Conference in New York.
How did you first get involved in the labor movement?
My involvement came out of student organizing movements. I got involved with the US Student Association, and was elected an officer. I met Larry Cohen (President of the Communication Workers of America), and began to see the connection between economic access and labor rights. From here it was a natural evolution. I went on to work in Chicago with Jobs for Justice and then Justice for Janitors, and mostly on immigrant campaigns. I have remained active ever since.
In the statement that you just made as a panelist [at the Advancing Worker Rights Conference], you mentioned two key points:
1. We need to go after those in power in order to demand more worker rights, and
2. We need to engage people’s hearts and minds to get them to take to the streets and change the existing dialogue, and bring this fight for worker rights to the forefront of our society. First, in your opinion, how can we go after those in power to make our demands known?
Firstly, we have to think about what we bargain over. It is broader than just wages; it is access to decent wages and full time work. The question is, how do we build a movement around these issues and take these demands to employers? Moreover, how can we have public policy back this?
This interplay will raise the bar for demands to be heard and wins to be made. Workers must be pushing – rather than just the union.
Take the example of the Caring Across Generations campaign; these workers don’t have collective bargaining rights. We have to think about how we can craft a campaign that weaves together the interests of the consumers of care with the workers.
With this example of care work, it’s not that individual employers don’t want to pay. This issue is that these employers don’t get funding from government programs like Medicaid and Medicare to do this. We need to couple issues like this with mandating that this workforce should receive a minimum wage.
You mentioned that care work is invisible in our economy. This is especially troubling given that we have an aging population who will increasingly need these sorts of services. Many domestic workers are immigrants. How do you think that these immigrant workers can shape the nature of these jobs to ensure collective bargaining rights, so that these jobs will be better positioned to uphold worker rights in the future?
With the demand that we have now, it is imperative to figure out a pathway to citizenship, and build this into the campaign. This involves five pillars:
1. The creation of home care jobs
2. Better quality of this work
3. Increased training opportunities for these workers
4. A pathway to citizenship for the existing immigrant workforce
5. Affordability and accessibility
If we can weave together these five pillars, there are lots of opportunities to shape the future of this field of work for the better.