|A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin
Rodriguez Romero, who received the World Methodist Peace Award in 2003,
has led a long fight for the legal rights of household workers in
Feb. 25, 2005
By Linda Bloom*
YORK (UMNS) — In her long fight for the legal rights of household
workers in Bolivia, Casimira Rodriguez Romero has never separated her
faith from her work.
The 38-year-old activist calls her word-of-mouth campaign to educate domestic workers an “evangelical fever.”
Rodriguez started attending Emmanuel Methodist Church in Cochabamba,
she realized “social justice and the gospels go hand-in-hand”—a
realization that “gave me a lot of peace, a lot of comfort and a lot of
“It was almost like following in the footsteps of Jesus, being able to help all these other household workers,” Rodriguez said.
passion led her into the position of chief executive of the National
Federation of Household Workers, a union that successfully lobbied the
Bolivian Parliament to pass the Household Workers Law in 2003. Since
2001, she also has headed the Confederation of Household Workers of
Latin America and the Caribbean. She received the World Methodist Peace
Award in 2003.
through a translator, Rodriguez met Feb. 22 in New York with staff at
the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The visit was part of a
U.S. tour that included stops in Connecticut and Washington D.C., and
participation in a forum at Harvard University.
in a poor, rural Quechua family, she became a household worker at age
13 and was subjected to harassment and abuse. “We were like trash thrown
away,” she told United Methodist News Service. “We weren’t treated like
her personal experience and “the injustices I saw committed against all
the other household workers,” Rodriguez became an active advocate of
workers’ rights, even as a teenager. She quickly learned that educating
other workers involved more than raising issues of minimum pay or
maximum working hours.
had made up little cards to invite household workers to some of the
meetings we were having,” she said. But when she gave a card to another
worker one day, the woman ran after her and explained that she did not
struck me. We have to teach all those household workers. We have to
teach them how to read,” Rodriguez recalled. The union operates a number
of literacy classes for workers.
has about 132,000 household workers, of which 99 percent are women. The
history of the union’s 12-year struggle to get the Household Workers
Law passed was also the history “of us growing as an organization,” she
said. “It took so much to convince all the politicians, and we got so
much resistance from the employers themselves.”
movement began in the mid-1980s as a loose collection of classes on
topics such as literacy, cooking and sewing, offered to workers on
Sundays, their traditional day off.
were like the yeast years, when the organization was forming,”
Rodriguez reflected. “That was the time when we were able to come
together as a community of workers.”
studying protest marches staged by other organizations, Rodriguez
organized Sunday marches by household workers who donned aprons and
carried brooms and other cleaning equipment. One Sunday, they succeeded
in shutting down a major highway.
the union adopted a law that said basically that the “household workers
law will end slavery,” both employers and news organizations began to
law requires a minimum salary equal to $50 U.S. dollars a month, and a
maximum of 10 hours daily for live-in workers and eight hours daily for
live-out workers; Sundays and holidays off; 15 days of vacation each
year and a bonus of one year’s pay after five years of work. However,
workers still do not have health insurance, pensions or written
biggest problem is there is such high resistance from the employers to
follow the letter of the law,” Rodriguez said. Complaints can be filed
with the union or government inspectors, but workers don’t always get
support from the government, according to Rodriguez.
radio and television ads or just by word of mouth—is key to the
struggle. Said Rodriguez: “There are still so many workers who don’t
know about the law and the union because they aren’t allowed to watch
television or listen to the radio.”
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.