Hire Power: Ai-jen Poo is Fighting to Give Millions of Women a Fair Deal

EXCLUDED FROM many of the protections provided under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an estimated 800,000 to 2 million domestic workers in the U.S. face tremendous exploitation. Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, is changing the tide for this 95 percent female workforce. Having celebrated legislative victories in New York, Hawaii, and California, Poo spoke to Marie Claire about what's next.

MARIE CLAIRE: What is your personal connection to this cause?

AI-JEN POO: My grandmother, who is 87, is able to have a vibrant life because a caregiver named Mrs. Sun supports her. Her work makes so much possible for our family, and I think the more we value people like Mrs. Sun, the healthier our society will be.

MC:What challenges do domestic workers face?

AP: Since these women are not given protections like a minimum wage, sick days, and overtime pay, we often compare it to the Wild West—a worker never knows what she is going to get. She might find a wonderful family who pays a living wage and benefits. On the other end of the spectrum, we see workers who haven't been paid for months, and cases of abuse, rape, and trafficking.

MC:Three states have passed "Domestic Workers Bills of Rights." What does this type of legislation address?

AP: The concept of a "bill of rights" originated at a convention in 2003. More than 200 domestic workers listed things that would improve their work, from paid holidays to health care to basic recognition and a thank-you. We turned the core pieces into legislation. Every state is approaching it differently, but they're working to recognize that all workers deserve protection.

MC:Where are the next battlegrounds?

AP: There's strong interest from legislators in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington state. The first hearings in the Massachusetts legislature are under way.