In 1998, when Anna Jakubek came to the United States, she began working as a domestic worker. It wasn’t an easy job.
“I went through a couple of jobs before I decided not to do it anymore. I had good experiences and bad experiences. Bad experiences were just basic things: not being paid or not being paid on time, never-ending days, 16-hour shifts,” said Jakubek.
“All the people that I’ve worked for were respectful towards me, but I felt that a lack of regulations for that particular job gave them an opportunity to use a person,” she added.
Knowing the job, along with being fluent in both Polish and English inspired her to organize domestic workers in order to enforce changes. As a domestic worker, Jakubek had very mixed experiences, although she never experienced being mistreated directly.
Anna Jakubek, has worked as a Polish community organizer at Arise Chicago since 2010. Jakubek’s main mission is to work with with the workers in order solve the issues that relate to workers’ rights.
Experiencing the problem herself in terms of having inadequate living conditions while being a domestic worker , along with hearing about the stories of other people motivated Jakubek to become a community organizer.
Jakubek organizes workers along with pushing for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that will clearly define their professions.
The Domestic Workers’ Bill will give domestic workers the right to be paid a time-and-a-half after 40 hours of work in a week, or 44 hours for workers who live in their employer’s home along with a day of rest every seven days or overtime pay if they agree to work on that day if it becomes law. In addition, the Bill will also guarantee protection under State Human Rights law, enforcing three paid days of rest each year after working for the same employer for a year.
“Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights is a new bill that we are trying to push. This is a national campaign also – we are a part of national domestic workers alliance and they are promoting this kind of changes in Bills in different states,” said Jakubek.
The main purpose of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is to take out all exemptions along with defining the occupation by establishing working time and working conditions, Jakubek said. The historic exclusion of domestic workers from federal labor laws has to be changed, said Jakubek.
At Arise Chicago, Jakubek conducts workshops in order to educate people about their rights.”On one on one workshops, we explain to people in an hour and a half what they can expect from the workers’ rights point of view: what the employer is obligated to do if they sign a contract and how to look at the contract,” said Jakubek.
After each workshop, people are encouraged to ask questions and their issues can be discussed in order to learn mutually.
[pullquote]According to the survey, conducted by National Domestic Workers Alliance, 67 percent of live-in workers were paid below the state minimum wage, averaging $6.15 an hour in 2012.[/pullquote]
Most of the cases that Jakubek works on are closely related to wage theft as people do not get paid and don’t know if they should be paid overtime.
Located in the Edgewater area of Chicago, Arise Chicago aims towards creating partnerships between communities and workers in order to fight workplace injustice. According to Jakubek, the process of fighting injustice consists of educating, organizing and advocating people in order to push towards changes in public policies.
According to the handouts about the organization, Arise Chicago provided 54 Worker Rights Workshops, educating 284 low-wage workers in the year of 2012 along with recovering $307,705 in wages and compensations.
Most of the cases, taken by Arise Chicago were solved through negotiating and direct actions.
Currently, Jakubek works on policy issues that relate to domestic workers.
As a community organizer, Jakubek is determined to enforce changes in order to define the legal aspects of being a domestic worker.
Other workers agree.
“It is important to take action when something isn’t right. The more people will step up, the stronger our voice will be,” said Greg Cebula, a 46-year old construction worker from Chicago. Cebula said that he has had problems with not being paid on time in the past, therefore he believes that issues like that can be solved by regulating current policies.
As a community organization, Arise Chicago believes in the power of people, said Anna Jakubek.
We always encourage people to become our members. Arise is a membership based organizations,” said Jakubek.
In 2012, the organization gained 244 new worker members.
“I am trying to spread the word that I am here and I am doing what I am doing, so people can call, people can come to workshops. If they can’t come to the workshops, I can contact them and talk to them. It will affect a lot of people if I will be able, with the other groups, to change the law through the bill,” said Jakubek.
The lack of solid regulations towards domestic workers is problematic, as it affects millions of people who have families, bills to pay and other responsibilities that do not relate to their daily jobs.
The issue of domestic workers does not affect only the workers, but also the others who know, are related or simply care about them. Kathy Perzan is one of the people who did not experience being a domestic workers herself, although she cares about the Bill because she knows many domestic workers.
“Changes in the law that relate to domestic workers should be enforced immediately. I am not a domestic worker, but I know people that are. I’ve heard so many stories from them, so I know that we need a solid change that will define their profession and change their treatment,” said Kathy Perzan, a 46-year old accountant from Chicago.
Jakubek is aware that organizing Polish community is important, as Poles comprise 25 percent of Cook County’s domestic workforce, according to Arise Chicago 2013 newsletter.
As an organizer, Jakubek believes that knowledge is a key, therefore people should know their rights, their responsibilities and obligations. A change in the treatment of domestic workers will occur with the active participation of people.
Because domestic workers see themselves as people not worth that much, they are treated that way. We start with self empowerment issue, thinking that we are professionals: you have to work with the kids, you have to be with the elderly person or you have to know how to clean. This is your profession,” said Jakubek, knowing that reaching the isolated group of domestic workers can be quite challenging sometimes.
Among many successful stories that Jakubek saw at Arise Chicago, there are also the challenging aspects of her work.
The most challenging thing about being a community organizer is to have people commit to the organizations. People come with demands and people want services. People want me to serve and leave them alone – they don’t want to organize. They’d rather pay than be involved,” said Jakubek.
She strongly believes that organizing people will enforce changes, therefore she remains dedicated to Arise Chicago.
“Anna knows how to handle herself in a lot of difficult situations. Her experience is a living proof of why we need these kinds of reforms. She carries a campaign by herself and she’s not even full-time,” said Micah Uetricht, Jakubek’s co-worker from Arise Chicago.
Jakubek’s work at Arise Chicago has affected the community by organizing people with a common cause along with educating them about their rights. Jakubek is motivated towards serving the community of domestic workers in order to enforce changes that will clearly define their professions along with securing their jobs in terms of wages and potential benefits.
“A minimum wage, here in Illinois should be raised and there is a policy piece that we fully support. We have a bill that is now in the hall, that covers all of the domestic workers, which are exempted from most of the worker’s laws here in Illinois,” said Jakubek.