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Champion for the Unseen Domestic Worker

Ai-jen Poo '89 is a tireless advocate for the rights of the nation’s 2 million domestic workers. As executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), Ai-jen has spent decades organizing and advocating for the housecleaners, nannies and health aides working in private homes—a largely invisible workforce that is vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. 

Ai-jen spent her post-college years in New York City organizing caregivers the hard way: by approaching them cold in public playgrounds, train stations and bookstores and inviting them to meetings, and urging them to join the fight. 

It’s taken years, but the NDWA has won significant new workplace protections for domestic workers. In 2010, after six years of lobbying from the NDWA, New York State passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights that gives caregivers the right to overtime after 40 hours of work, a day off (or overtime pay) every seven days; three paid days of rest each year; and protection under New York’s Human Rights Law, plus a special cause of action for workers who suffer sexual or racial harassment. 

Seven other states have enacted laws protecting domestic workers, and earlier this year a federal Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights was introduced by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. 

Along with securing workplace protections for these laborers, Ai-jen wants to change the narrative around domestic workers. And she’s found some high-wattage help from Hollywood in getting her message out. She attended the Golden Globes as the guest of Meryl Streep in 2018 and director Afonso Cuarón (of Roma fame) this past January. 

Ai-jen believes the issue will only become more critical in years to come, as baby boomers age and the United States faces a potential shortage of quality caregivers.

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