Profile: An Advocate For ‘The Help’ Who Speaks From Experience

Barbara Young discussed the movie "The Help" on MSNBC. (Screen shot from MSNBC)

The abuse and enslavement of domestic workers that we have noted here at Voices is the most dramatic example of what advocates say is widespread exploitation and mistreatment of live in maids, nannies and other household servants in America.

It’s that exploitation that Barbara Young, a Caribbean immigrant who worked 17 years as an elderly care giver and nanny, is trying to put a stop to, Carib News reported in its print edition. As a key organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Brown has become an eloquent voice for “the help.”

“I believe passionately in what I am doing and it is more than a job,” said Young. “It was quite a shock to me when I came to the United States in 1993 to discover that domestics were excluded from the country’s labor laws and regulations and they didn’t have the rights of other workers. It was an eye-opener for me.”

That experience put Young on a path to activism.

Much has changed in her life since she came to America from the Caribbean and become first an “elderly care giver” in Queens and later a nanny looking after the young children of working couples. By 2001 the West Indian was agitating for better conditions for domestic[s] and joined forces with Domestic Workers United, a Manhattan organization fighting for the inclusion of nannies, housekeepers and domestics in the regulations that set basic labor standards.

“We fought alongside activists to get domestics included in the categories of workers protected by the regulations,” she explained.

Young,  who has traveled all over the country to make her case, has seen the movement make strides.

Her activities and those of the National Domestic Workers Allies have met with success. The New  York State legislature — the Assembly and the State Senate — recently approved a Domestic Bill of Rights which stipulates that domestic workers have a 40-hour week; are given paid days-off after a year; are eligible for overtime; and earned the right to organize as a group in the labor force.

“Our next target is Washington D.C to get a Bill of Rights for domestic workers there,” said the Caribbean immigrant.

The movement also got some traction from the recent Hollywood movie “The Help.” In February, Young was flown to California for an Oscar-viewing party and to participate in a discussion about the movie and domestic work. Despite criticisms that the film offered stereotyped images of black women as maids, Young defended “The Help” for the attention it brought to the plight of domestic workers.

“I was grateful to the producers of the movie for bringing domestic work to the forefront,” Young told the Carib News. “When we watched it as a family there wasn’t a dry-eye in the room. It brought back memories of my experiences as a live-in domestic on Long Island.”

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