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The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers
Care worker Vivian Siordia with Colin Campbell, for whom she works. Photo by Chloe Aftel

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Co-published by Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Magnum Foundation and Mother Jones. We asked photographers to show us the paradox of today’s labor movement. Even as the popularity of unions has grown over the last decade, actual membership has continued to decline. Can new enthusiasm revitalize American labor? Read about this unique moment for workers here.

Domestic workers perform grueling work with few protections. They provide care in isolated settings, leaving their essential labor all too often hidden. It can be a difficult job and a complicated one. When you work in a home, lines blur.

For decades, feminist activists have said that work in the home—often performed for no pay by wives, mothers, and daughters—has been misunderstood as separate from “real” labor. This feminized care has been relegated and detached from a labor movement focused on men.

In the United States, such work has also been done by Black women who have had to organize aggressively against the odds. Infamously, domestic workers were excluded from the labor agenda during the New Deal. And, since then, they have had to fight to catch up to standards enshrined for others in the law. The National Domestic Workers Alliance and others have sought to change the state of play. After the pandemic, there has also been an uptick in interest in movements like Wages for Housework—a campaign in the 1970s to organize and recognize work in the home.

In this project, Chloe Aftel highlights the day-to-day demands of these workers who often go unnoticed. She follows Vivian Siordia and Liezl Japona, both care workers in California, showing the daily ups and downs of such labor. Both Siordia and Japona think that more organizing and aid to care workers could help make the job better.

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Care worker Vivian Siordia dressing Colin Campbell, who has cerebral palsy, in the morning. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Colin’s shoes in his bedroom. Siordia has been caring for him for a year. Before, she worked as a teacher. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Siordia lifting Colin out of bed in the morning. “Unionization is important to me,” she says of efforts to organize home workers. “I would like to go in that direction.” Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Siordia helps Colin get dressed in the morning. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Arianne Campbell makes breakfast, including pancakes, for Colin, her son, and Siordia. “Arianne is very professional, and I am very lucky that my life and space are protected,” Siordia told me. “For others, bringing a live-in caregiver, sometimes boundaries can be overstepped. Personal rights should be a given.” Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Siordia and Campbell eat together after Colin has finished his meal. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Siordia gets ready to take Colin out to play with his basketball. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Colin and Siordia play with a basketball in the hallway of their apartment complex in the morning. Originally, Siordia had planned to be a nanny and then saw an opportunity to work for Arianne Campbell. “It was a big new step for me that worked out,” she says. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Colin and Siordia work on reading skills. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Arianne shows Colin what is coming up for the week on his wall calendar. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Vivian Siordia at home. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Care worker Liezl Japona gives Dr. Irene Goldenberg her first round of medications for the day at her home in Los Angeles. Japona is affiliated with Hand in Hand, a national group of employers of nannies, house cleaners, and home attendants advocating for better labor practices and affordable, accessible homecare, both in solidarity with workers. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona has worked as a caregiver for 23 years—18 in the Middle East and five in the United States. She spends time talking with Dr. Irene after her first round of medications. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona does the dishes after preparing breakfast for Dr. Irene. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona picks out clothing options for Dr. Irene. Currently, Japona works only 15 hours a week. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona helps Dr. Irene put on jewelry for the day after helping her get dressed. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona dresses Dr. Irene’s wounds and rubs her legs. “Since I was young,” Japona says, “I wanted to be a nurse, but we didn’t have money, we couldn’t send me [to school], and I felt I wanted to be a caregiver. I love my work.” Photo by Chloe Aftel

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona waits for Dr. Irene to come down the stairs and prepares her walker. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Japona does laundry for Dr. Irene. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

The Invisible Work of America’s Domestic Workers

Care worker Liezl Japona at her home. Photo by Chloe Aftel

 

Chloe Aftel (she/they) is a non-binary director and photographer based in California. For over a decade Chloe has documented minority groups with a focus on female-identified, non-binary and trans communities, most notably in her award-winning book Outside & In Between that explores life beyond the gender binary.

Save An Endangered Species: Journalists

Chloe Aftel (she/they) is a non-binary director and photographer based in California. For over a decade Chloe has documented minority groups with a focus on female-identified, non-binary and trans communities, most notably in her award-winning book Outside & In Between that explores life beyond the gender binary.

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