California Domestic Workers Coalition

“Through Nuestras Manos, I have learned a lot about how to take care of my health and safety at work to prevent health risks. I avoid the use of chemicals or toxic products. I prefer to make my own cleaning liquids using more organic ingredients like vinegar and baking soda and that has given me excellent results.”

My name is Iris Zuniga, I am originally from Honduras and I have been a domestic worker for 17 years. I currently work as a homecare worker taking care of the elderly and I have also worked as a housecleaner. I am a member of the Nuestra Manos in Santa Ana.

As a homecare worker my tasks include providing care and attention to clients, giving them their medications, providing them with a healthy diet, and helping them do their exercises. More than anything, I try to make them feel comfortable and give them company so that the family feels that their family member is safe in my hands.

A very routine task of my job is transferring my client from their bed to their chair and vice versa. Normally, this requires a hoyer lift to help support the person’s weight when moving them. Some of my clients don’t have access or cannot afford this equipment and I have to put in a lot of bodily effort. This is a risk for the client and also a danger for me as a worker.

Photo by Riccardo Stanley Mejia

Because of these efforts, I have a small injury on my right arm and shoulder, which is the one I use the most. This part is inflamed from the strain. Over time, these pains have accumulated. But I have to keep going, I take a pain pill and continue the next day.

My health and safety have also been at risk as a housecleaner. When I first immigrated to the U.S. and began my career cleaning houses, I knew little about the dangers of toxic cleaning products.

On one occasion, while cleaning the bathroom of my client, I added bleach to the toilet bowl that already had ajax inside. This resulted in an immediate chemical reaction that forced me and the family to leave the house because the fumes were so powerful we became dizzy.

We stayed outside for three hours, until the reaction neutralized. I explained to my employer how I tried to clean the toilet bowl, and found that she also had no knowledge of toxic cleaning products.

Photo by Riccardo Stanley Mejía

Through Nuestras Manos, I have learned how to take care of my health and safety at work to prevent these types of risks. I now avoid the use of chemicals or toxic products. I prefer to make my own cleaning liquids using organic ingredients like vinegar and baking soda with excellent results.

As a homecare worker, I try to ask family members if they can provide the lift equipment so that I can transfer the client more comfortably and safely. Because of the pain in my arm, I have to take care of myself so that it doesn’t get worse.

These workplace health and safety recommendations are supported by thousands of domestic workers in the state. In fact, we have led the creation of the first health and safety guidelines for our industry alongside Cal/OSHA. It is a first step towards preventing injuries, illnesses, and deaths at work – but we continue to fight for the right to health and safety.