By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – This week, Academy award winning actress and activist Jane Fonda went to Capitol Hill along with a delegation of domestic workers and farmworkers, as well as other prominent activists, to lobby Congress for safe and dignified workplaces.
The delegation, known as the “Unstoppable Women Workers,” included Ai-jen Poo of National Domestic Workers Alliance, Mónica Ramirez of National Farmworker Women’s Alliance, and Fatima Goss Graves of National Women’s Law Center.
“The issue of workers’ rights has been very important to me for a long time. But with the rise of the TIME’S UP and #MeToo movements, this is a new reality.” said Fonda. “If we are truly going to confront and solve the issues of dignity, equality, rights and safety, we have to stand in alliance with our sisters across all sectors.”
Many of the farmworker women and domestic workers said they had experienced labor exploitation and sexual violence on the job.
The women’s demands include establishing protections against discrimination and harassment; expanding and updating the rights of farm workers; drafting a new bill to recognize domestic work; and ensuring benefits for both farmworkers and domestic workers.
A longtime activist for issues including the environment, human rights, and the empowerment of women and girls, in 1980, Fonda made the film “9 to 5” which raised critical issues of injustice for women in the workplace.
“I am honored to be here with domestic workers and farm workers as we call on Congress for policies that will uphold their rights and dignity,” Fonda said. “We are here for the long haul.”
Fonda, now 80, was also the keynote speaker at a congressional luncheon held on July 11, and a public forum at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on July 12.
“Domestic workers and farm workers are proud to be a part of a growing movement of women that are transforming the way we live and work in America,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The workers who have been the least visible and most vulnerable are now at the center of our solutions, which means that when we win, no one will be left behind.”
Author of the letter that initiated the TIME”S UP movement, Mónica Ramírez, co-founder of Alianza de Campesinas said, “As long as the most vulnerable workers face rampant sexual harassment with few protections, we will keep coming back to Washington to make our voices heard.
“Now that the nation has finally seen the widespread abuses that we have always known, thanks to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo Movement, it’s time we put real policies on the table for farmworkers and domestic workers who bring nourishment and care to our nation,” Ramirez added.
Alianza de Campesinas is the first national farmworker women’s organization in the U.S. created by current and former farmworker women, along with women who are from farmworker families.
“We are dealing with a government that wants to turn the clock back on women’s rights and workers’ rights,” said Fatima Goss Graves, CEO and President of the National Women’s Law Center. “We cannot let that happen. We owe it to all the brave women and men who have risked so much and said ‘Me Too’.”
Well known for her work in the area of public policy at both the state and federal levels, Graves regularly testifies before Congress and federal agencies, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and other public education forums.
“As we speak, many farmworkers are working 15-hour days to cultivate and harvest the fruits and vegetables that we eat,” said Mily Treviño-Sauceda, Alianza de Campesinas co-director. “Hundreds of farmworker women around the country are leading to create change for our community. It’s imperative that we work together to ensure safe and dignified working conditions for all working women.”
This week’s advocacy follows the “Unstoppable Day of Action” last April, when more than 100 domestic workers and farmworker women came to the nation’s capital to push for an expansion of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act among other workplace laws.
Title VII is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
“As care workers, we provide care to our loved ones and our most precious possessions. Our work makes all other work possible, yet our exclusion from many labor laws makes us vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” said delegation member Myrla Baldonado, a domestic worker and organizer with Pilipino Workers Center.
“We need to pass stronger laws and enforce them to protect all of us, not just some. We ask you to stand with us. We must change the way America cares.”
While on the hill, the delegation met with lawmakers, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).
As reported in Variety, Fonda said, “Hollywood realized that we have the privilege of being able to stand alongside these most vulnerable women who don’t have privilege and whose voices are not heard. We are like repeaters, those towers at the top of mountains that can pick up signals in the valley and spread them out wider.”