Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

“You won’t pacify us”

Domestic workers flooded the office of Donald Trump’s nomination for the Office of Management and Budget with baby pacifiers this week.

Penelope Kyritsis
10 February 2017

NDWA campaign poster. Used with permission.

Members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and their allies organised “an action of power, love, and humour” on 6 February, as NDWA’s Irene Jor put it, to protest the nomination of Mick Mulvaney for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Their complaint stems from Mulvaney’s admission that he failed to pay $15,000 in payroll taxes for his triplets’ nanny from 2000-2004, an “oversight” he attributed to viewing her as a “babysitter” rather than as a household employee. They were also protesting against his support for budget cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

To express their displeasure, NDWA delivered thousands of pacifiers to Mulvaney’s office, demanded he withdraw his nomination, and publicly apologise for the disrespect he showed to his former nanny. They carried banners that read: “Mulvaney: You don’t value care work, you are unfit to lead OMB!” and “You won’t pacify us!”


Image by author.

“If he can’t manage the finances in his household, how will he manage the budget of this nation?” asked Antonia Surco, a long-time member of the NDWA and the Latino and immigration advocacy organisation CASA de Maryland. Antonia Peña, a leader at the NDWA and former nanny echoed this concern: “How can we trust him to hold this important role, if he does not value the work of men and women in this county?” While Mulvaney was not at his office at the time, his chief of staff, Natalee Binkholder, invited the members of the NDWA in to discuss their concerns on behalf of the congressman.

Immigrants in a hostile environment

NDWA took the opportunity to express their concerns about US President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and recent actions, including his executive order banning entry from seven Muslim-majority countries and his continued pursuit of a wall on the US-Mexico border. Immigrants make up the majority of domestic workers in the United States, and his general anti-immigrant rhetoric is therefore a major concern for domestic workers.

Binkhodler sought to reassure the NDWA members, telling them that Mulvaney is a strong proponent of immigration reform and that he would work to ensure that immigrants who have “worked hard” and therefore “earned it” would be taken care of. His response reflects a view of immigration which holds that migrants must first prove their worth to be treated with respect, but as many domestic workers can testify economic productivity is rarely enough to stay a deportation order.

As NDWA’s Federal Policy Director Elly Krugler pointed out, “when immigrants break civil law, families are separated, and people are deported. Representative Mulvaney broke a civil law by not reporting his taxes, and he is getting rewarded”. Krugler went on to argue that it is precisely this rhetoric of vilifying low-wage workers that allows for Mulvaney’s breach of the law to be framed as a “mistake,” whereas if a migrant did something similar it would almost certainly have serious consequences.

When immigrants break civil law, families are separated, and people are deported. Representative Mulvaney broke a civil law by not reporting his taxes, and he is getting rewarded.

There are over two million domestic workers in the United States, of which 90% are women and more than half are immigrant women and women of colour. They occupy a range of jobs, including cleaning houses as well as taking care of children, aging parents, and people with disabilities. Domestic workers are among the most invisible-ised workers in the United States (and the world), despite the crucial role they occupy for so many families and households.

“Nannies are involved in many aspects that are deemed invisible, like potty-training children, teaching them to colour, to hold a crayon, their first words, their first steps”, explained Gale Johnson, a current nanny and member of the NDWA and We Dream in Black. “They play such a vital part in the growth and the development of children”.


Image by author.

Yet this vital work goes largely unrecognised in part because, despite many advocacy efforts, employers’ households remain separate from our common understanding of “the workplace”. This makes it difficult for those employing domestic work to see themselves as ‘employers’, and it impedes hold employers accountable for abusing household employees through wage left, unpaid overtime, overly long hours, and sexual harassment, to name a few.  

Despite these persisting injustices, domestic workers refuse to step down. During the rushed debrief session before some of the protestors returned to New York, the women took turns describing in one word how they felt after this action; “powerful” and “inspired” featured strongly. Inundating Mulvaney’s office with pacifiers is only one of many actions and acts of resistance that the members of the NDWA are ready to bring to the fight for the respect and dignity of domestic workers. As one protestor said to Binkhodler before they departed, “We want [Mulvaney] to know that there is an alliance of domestic workers and that we will be watching. We don’t need more millionaires in a millionaire’s cabinet”.

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