Vigil in Lakewood for Domestic Workers

Vigil for domestic workers in Lakewood, New Jersey (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

Vigil for domestic workers in Lakewood, New Jersey (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

A group of domestic workers and community activists held a vigil on the eve of the Yom Kippur Jewish holiday to raise awareness and call for respect for housekeepers.

The vigil took place in the township of Lakewood, in Ocean County, New Jersey, home to large Hispanic and Orthodox Jewish communities.

In this area, domestic workers ‒ mostly Hispanic ‒ are usually hired by Jewish families. Despite the fact that most employers treat them with respect and consideration, the workers say that many not only mistreat them verbally but also force them to work in unsafe and demeaning conditions such as cleaning floors on their knees.

Hispanic housekeepers have denounced this situation for years.

The Lakewood Township Committee approved a resolution in 2013 in support of a bill of rights for domestic workers, establishing guidelines for their treatment including a minimum wage of $12 per hour, no kneeling, workplace and equipment safety, rest time during shifts, and no wage theft or third-party contracts, among other rights.

Still, the resolution is non-binding, which leaves the authorities powerless to enforce the bill of rights among employers.

Domestic workers ‒ with the assistance of the community organization New Labor ‒ held the event during Yom Kippur to draw the attention of the Jewish community.

During the vigil, flyers with the bill of rights were distributed to Jewish residents.

“We are grateful for the jobs we are offered. However, we want to send a message that [employers] need to observe our bill of rights, which includes basic conditions for us to perform the work,” said Reina Axalco, one of the housekeepers who participated in the event and a member of New Labor.

“Yom Kippur is an important day of atonement containing messages of repentance and purification. It is crucial to observe holidays and traditions. Today, we are giving employers the opportunity to clear their conscience and to think about the treatment they are giving the workers, whom they have working on their knees and to whom they want to pay only $8 per hour. Let them be sorry for this!” said domestic worker Silvia Martínez.

Louis Kimmel, director of New Labor, said that the event seeks to raise awareness in the Jewish community and among rabbis about the situation of the domestic workers in order to bring about change.

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