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‘My mother, who cleans housing for a living, deserves respect’

My mother earns a living cleaning houses and caring for children. Growing up, I was taught to respect her. But Illinois law does not give her the same respect that I do.

Domestic workers like my mother have been left out of Illinois’ minimum wage since it was created. The state law also excludes her from other basic protections, such as the right to be free from sexual harassment, to take unpaid meal breaks during long shifts and to have one day off work each week.

OPINION

When I was younger, my mother struggled to provide for me. She worked hard for as little as $5 an hour, cleaning three houses from top to bottom for $40 a day.

A while after that, she began working as a nanny. That was even harder – 12-hour shifts, part of the shift caring for two children. Taking care of children is not an easy task. And yet, her pay was hardly enough to cover the cost of the children’s food, which her employers made her pay for out of pocket.

Later on, my mother went back to cleaning, but the next job she found paid just $4 an hour. After two years, she got a raise – to $6.

My mother, Maria Esther Bolaños, has always found her work meaningful and honorable. And yet, it receives so little recognition. I know many other students whose mothers do the same work as mine. But when I asked them what their moms did, no one really wanted to say.

That’s why I helped my mother prepare to go to Springfield a few weeks ago to advocate for an Illinois Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights would close the loopholes that leave people like my mother without basic protections – and without respect.

“The Bill of Rights will give us more confidence in ourselves,” my mother says. “It will make my job safer. I will be able to protect myself from abuse. I will be able to ask for pay that reflects the true value of my work.”

There are two reasons that Illinois needs a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

First, it would give domestic workers the same protection that other workers have. Without the bill, my mother and other domestic workers will be left overworked, underpaid, and without recourse when an employer harasses them or sends them away without paying them.

And, in granting legal equality to domestic workers, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will grant them dignity and respect. My mother deserves this. So do the tens of thousands of other Illinois mothers who are domestic workers. But today, the state law does not even recognize her work as a real job.

I disagree. My mother’s hard work is just as valuable as anyone else’s. She deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Taking care of the elderly, taking care of children, helping people with disabilities live independent lives, and cleaning someone’s home are all important. What would happen to your job if you didn’t have someone to help you take care of your children or your parents?

Today, my mother is still a domestic worker, but the hard times have passed. She has finally found a job where her employers respect her.

When you have a job and you are able to support your family, it’s a great feeling. I can tell how happy she is. As her daughter, I feel extremely proud of everything she’s achieved so far.

But she does not want to see others go through the same struggles that she did. And I feel the same way.

“I hope that those who come after us will be able to live with more dignity,” my mother says. And this Mother’s Day, so do I.

Maria Esther Sanchez, 16, is a junior at Northside College Prep.