It's been 22 years since Roxy left Mexico City with a suitcase and crossed the border to enter the United States. She escaped from structural violence, from drug trafficking, and from the government. She decided to go with her boyfriend at the time—who is now her husband—after he was kidnapped in Mexico. They migrated out of fear that something like this would happen again. They arrived in California and stayed in Los Angeles; there they made their new home. Roxy is 41 years old, with a 21-year-old daughter and 18-year-old twins. She is still fighting for her regularization in that northern country. She has worked in cleaning and maintenance of real estate since she arrived in California, going through word-of-mouth recruitment, various agencies, web advertising sites and different apps. Her two decades of work experiences show the changes in the care labor market in the United States and, above all, the technification and capitalist competition in the paid domestic work.
One of the first experiences she tells us in the cleaning area was between 2004 and 2007, when she worked for a beach house cleaning agency in Venice Beach. One day she came with another work colleague to clean a house and while she was dusting the kitchen shelves, she found a gun. They were both very scared.
I opened the spoon drawer and found a gun. So, I grabbed it and went and locked the door. There was only one door to enter and exit. I told my partner: “We have to close it because they are going to come for it” and it scared us.
Roxy then called the agency supervisor and tried to explain the situation to her: “I spoke a little English and she a little Spanish, so I told her that 'there was a gun in the apartment”. The supervisor told her to leave the gun in the drawer and to leave the place immediately. "That's when I said 'no more, I don't want this job anymore, I don't want to put my life at risk, and for so little money”. It was so that she stopped working with that cleaning agency and, shortly after, she joined Craigslist —a classified ads website. With Craigslist she worked more than eight years.
Delving into Roxy's experiences in the platform economy, she has worked with different cleaning apps, including: Jan-Pro and Care. In none of the apps where Roxy has worked fellow paid domestic workers could rate individual clients; they couldn't leave comments either. However, customers do rate them and do leave comments on their profiles, which are public. For Roxy, the way that the app rates them is unfair. In addition, several times clients rate them poorly for subjective reasons and prejudices, such as their nationality, and not because of the work they do.
“I would like to rate customers. I could also give them little stars and say 'be careful with this person because this happened to me with her'”. Roxy tells us this insistently that the apps do not allow paid domestic workers to be in contact with each other. So, they do not have any way to alert others if a client is harassing, discriminating, racist, etc. For this reason, Roxy demands that they, as workers, can also leave comments and rate them.
One of the barriers that Roxy and many migrant workers face is language. Her command of English is sometimes low or intermediate and this generates tensions with clients.
They see us as ignorant because of our accent, because we don't speak English very well. Sometimes, they [the clients] well, they don't speak Spanish and they get frustrated because they think that we don't understand them or something… I understand a little bit of English, but my sister didn't go to school here or anything, and she doesn't understand anything. With her it's more of a problem. So, I told her to take a photo if there is something wrong and I immediately send the client a message to tell what is happening and so on.
There are barriers often related to discrimination, racism, xenophobia. They are not just difficulties, they are pains. It is the match and mismatch between various forms of oppression; it is the incarnation of “borderlands subjectivities” in the words of the Chicana Gloria Anzaldúa.
Some cleaning apps in the US demand workers that are American citizens. Others request residency visa and others, the social security number. But the control is not very strict, the need to work is pressing and there are many irregular workers working with the apps. As the motto says, "we are everywhere" and the migrants are in the apps also.
Many of these platform companies offer large cleaning venues such as offices and multi-story homes. So, if the workers “win” that offer, they must hire more people. That is, the app does not assigned shifts but rather they must compete to win the job. In most cases, they subcontract people in the process of regularization or irregular workers in order to have competitive prices and win the bid. Besides, the women hire their relatives, people from their community, and other migrant people to give them a hand.
The app says that if you need to hire people to help you, they have to be legal in this country; then, there is where you get into trouble because it is not true. I, for example, am just in the process of regularization.
Roxy's dream is to have her own business app. An app that pays a fair price, that provides accident insurance to the workers, that cares for the well-being of the colleagues and thinks about the cleaning products used at work.
I would like to have my own app and help domestic workers to have insurance and get jobs. I would do pretty flyers, business cards and I would have letters of recommendation. All good so that they don't have to struggle like I did, so they don't suffer so much!
Roxy mentions that the products that customers have for cleaning offices and homes are, most of the time, very toxic. The use of these products affects the health of workers and also the environment.
I want to use liquids that do not harm us or the client. What I always tell them when I go to an office and see commercial liquids is "oh, to be honest, I don't like this kind”. Sometimes I ask for baking soda and vinegar.
Inside the app of her dreams, Roxy would like to offer organic cleaning products, a brand of products that matches the different cleaning tasks... More than distant horizons, Roxy's proposals are clear strategies on how to improve the apps. These are changes that contemplate a dignified life for paid domestic workers and, in turn, that commit to more conscious and respectful forms of production, consumption, action and relationship with nature and the planet.
Illustrators: Mar Rivera | @mar___rivera