California Domestic Workers Coalition

My name is Paula Sandoval. I am a member leader of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) in the Bay Area and a mother of three. I have been a housecleaner and homecare worker in Oakland, California for more than 6 years, and I am a leader of the Fair Work, Clean Homes campaign.

I immigrated here to the U.S. in 2006 from Bolivia, and I wish I had discovered Mujeres Unidas y Activas earlier. I think because of one’s own fear of being undocumented, it makes you afraid to seek support and you think you will be reported.

Before finding MUA I worked for a woman, which we now define as a “Dueña de Ruta” or a route owner, who employs an informal team of housecleaners. There were four of us, and every day, we had to be at the owner’s house at 8 in the morning. From her house, she took us to clean a minimum of 6 houses per day.

They were huge houses, in the wealthy neighborhoods of Oakland, and she always made us do the hardest jobs – cleaning the enormous kitchens, the bathrooms, using powerful chemicals like bleach – while she did the lighter tasks.

We returned every night at 9 pm to her house. We would work for 12 hours or more, but she only paid us $10 an hour for no more than 8 hours total. This means that I received only $80 for a 12-hour day of heavy work.

In addition, she did not give us any rest breaks, not even the opportunity to use the bathroom. We rushed from one house to another, and she only gave us 15-20 minutes to have lunch, all squeezed into the car, under the hot sun in Oakland.

During that time, I did not know that Oakland’s minimum wage was already $ 12.25 an hour, and as a housecleaner, I did not know that I was entitled to overtime time after 8 hours.

It wasn’t until 2015, that I was going through a very hard time that a friend of mine recommended I seek support and counseling at MUA. When I arrived, I had really low self-esteem, and I didn’t see any solutions. But MUA provided support, and I started to receive more and more trainings as a woman, as an immigrant, and as a worker. The organization supported me in my personal life – I felt more positive and safe from prejudice – They listened to me. 

It was thanks to Mujeres Unidas y Activas that I learned my rights. MUA is doing the work on the issues that immigrant women face, and through MUA, I learned my rights both as a worker and as an immigrant.

These trainings give me the strength to not be afraid and to organize others.

There are so many workers like me who do not know how work conditions should be. Because of the nature of domestic work, it’s difficult to find information or know where to go when an issue arises.

That is why I organize – so that we can collectively change the culture and the conditions of domestic work. And I think this is so important for all immigrant women to have this resource. So many have experienced hardships in their own countries, and also problems and challenges here.

Now, I’m not afraid to speak up. I know how to manage if someone is trying to treat me badly or intimidate me. And I have become a leader – sharing my own story and lessons and inviting others to come to MUA. 

I am grateful to be able to organize with MUA, and I hope I can share everything that I have learned with other women because we have to support each other.