Skip to main content

On Dec. 6, Georgia faces its second U.S. Senate runoff election in two years, and the political outcome will be of enormous consequence. In the previous 2020-2021 runoff, two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, defeated their Republican opponents, incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Their election led to Democratic control of the Senate. This time around, Warnock, the incumbent, is being challenged by Republican Herschel Walker. Although the Democrats have succeeded in obtaining 50 seats, the runoff still has major implications in how and what Senate decisions will be made. A majority of 51 for the Democrats rather than a 50-50 split can change the composition of Senate committees, influence negotiations within the Democratic caucus over particular votes, and create a little breathing space for unforeseen circumstances such as the death or retirement of a senator.

kroger workers

While there are some different circumstances from the 2020 Senate race — only four weeks between the general election and the runoff this time as opposed to nine weeks in 2020 — both the Democratic and Republican parties are nevertheless pouring enormous resources, including money and volunteers, into this abridged campaign. Predictions are that the ground game will be the difference, even more so than in 2020.

One of the key sets of players in that ground game will be domestic workers. In 2020, domestic workers, through the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and its political arm Care in Action, were able to either phone, send mail or reach out in person to more than 5.85 million voters. They knocked on more than 1 million doors. In the process, they identified themselves as domestic workers or care workers and said they were part of an organization promoting domestic work issues. The pitch strongly resonated. “Care is a motivating issue,” argues Ai-jen Poo, the co-founder and president of the NDWA and senior adviser to Care in Action.

This time around, with such a short time frame in which to get people to the polls, groups like Care in Action and their domestic worker constituency are essential to generate turnout. Their leaders see themselves as part of a multiracial and multigenerational coalition that has reached out directly to their primary constituency of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and younger people. In doing so, they have often gotten a positive response. The coalition says their review of voting records in the 2021 runoff showed those they contacted voted at three times the rate of other Georgia voters.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

One reason for their effectiveness might be that domestic workers are so embedded in everyday life. They include home care workers, home cleaners and child care workers. They are the fastest growing segment of the labor market. Care in Action Executive Director Hillary Holley, who grew up in Georgia’s Gwinnett County, which itself mirrored Georgia’s shift from red to purple, argues that domestic workers are “the people who literally keep this country running. They’re the nannies, they’re the house cleaners, they’re the home care workers who take care of our children, our loved ones who are aging, and our people who need some support in their daily lives.” In addition to Georgia, Care in Action is organizing in seven other states (and expanding its base into more). For the runoff, domestic workers from South Carolina traveled to Georgia to join the door knocking effort.

There are more than 2.2 million domestic workers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that number represents a substantial undercount, since it’s dependent on tax-related information, and many domestic workers are paid under the table. Some 90% are women, just over half (51.3%) are Black, Hispanic or Asian American and Pacific Islander women, and about a third are immigrants, more than twice the number of other U.S. workers, according to a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute and released last week. According to EPI, the median wage of a domestic worker is $13.79 per hour, much less than other workers (whose median wage is $21.76 per hour). Domestic workers are three times as likely to live in poverty than other workers and almost equally as likely to either be in poverty or above the poverty line but still without sufficient income to make ends meet, as the EPI study points out.

Yet domestic workers have long been engaged in political organizing and for social justice, despite the enormous obstacles they’ve long faced. Rosa Parks started work as a maid and knew many of the domestic workers who joined the first bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. In the 1960s, under the leadership of Georgian Dorothy Bolden, a one-time domestic worker, the National Domestic Workers Union of America (NDWUA) was established, with a base of 10,000 domestic workers in Atlanta. Along with parallel organizations like the National Welfare Rights Organization, Bolden and NDWUA promoted an economic as well as racial justice agenda and became a strong political force. To join NDWUA, Bolden insisted, one had to be a domestic worker and had to vote.

Bolden and the NDWUA became the inspiration and a model for Ai-jen Poo, as well as for Care in Action leaders like Holley and Nikema Williams, who now represents the seat in Congress that had been held by the late John Lewis. The 120,000 domestic workers now engaged with the National Domestic Workers Alliance see themselves as domestic worker advocates and political actors. And while they are not the only political actors doing the ground game in Georgia — the national Democratic and Republican Party organizations have far more resources, including their paid volunteers — they have become a presence in determining the outcome on Dec. 6.

Capital & Main