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MacArthur Grantee Recognized For Advocacy Of Domestic Workers

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Another creative thinker recognized this year by the MacArthur Foundation is Ai-jen Poo. She's the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and she's an advocate for domestic workers - housekeepers, nannies, caregivers for the elderly or the disabled. Ai-jen Poo, welcome to the program and congratulations.

AI-JEN POO: Thank you and thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: You are an advocate of the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, which I gather four states have adopted. What are the rights that are accorded domestic workers under the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights?

POO: Well, so far New York, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts have all passed the domestic worker bills of rights. And it's everything from paid leave to protection from discrimination and harassment to overtime.

The reason for that is because in the 1930s when we created most of the labor laws that protect American workers, two groups of workers were excluded - farm workers and domestic workers. And many of those exclusions remain in our labor laws today.

So in some ways what we're trying to do is not only account for and remedy those exclusions, but actually put into place the kinds of protections that will really enable these jobs to be good jobs that you can take pride in and support your family on for the future.

SIEGEL: Are you also involved in training home healthcare workers so that they can meet some standards?

POO: Yes. So one of the things that has really been striking to us is the aging of America with people living longer than ever because of advances in healthcare and technologies. And so the need for care supports and services for our growing aging population is exponentially increasing. Right now there's an ongoing training program in New York City that we're piloting with a group of domestic workers who are gaining skills that will help them support people with Alzheimer's, people with chronic illnesses and enable people to be able to age in place in their homes and communities.

SIEGEL: You, Ai-jen Poo, are of Taiwanese background. Your father was a scientist, and you didn't have domestic workers in the immediate family.

POO: That's right.

SIEGEL: But do you find some special rapport, say, with Chinese immigrant women in New York or elsewhere who are in this situation?

POO: Well, I'll tell you that my grandmother who is 88 years of old and also an immigrant - she lives in Southern California in a Chinese retirement community. And she's able to live independently in that way because she's supported by an immigrant caregiver named Mrs. Sun (ph). She helps to make sure that my grandmother, who has cared for so many generations of people in my family, actually has the support that she needs to live life on her terms at 88. And that is just such a huge gift.

So it's a tribute to her and all of the many, many women who have helped to create protections and support for domestic workers that inspire me and motivate me every day. And I think I've inspired lots of people.

SIEGEL: Well, Ai-jen Poo, congratulations on the MacArthur fellowship, and thanks for talking with us today.

POO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.