Collaborating with Economic Hardship Reporting Project and Magnum Foundation, this narrative sheds light on the paradox of the contemporary labor movement through photography. While public support for unions has increased in recent years, the actual membership has seen a downward trend. Will this newfound enthusiasm reinvigorate the American labor force? Discover more about this unique moment for laborers at this location.

Household aides engage in strenuous tasks with limited safeguards. They deliver care in sequestered environments, thereby concealing their vital contributions. It represents an arduous and intricate occupation, where the boundaries between duties become blurred.

For ages, activists advocating for gender equality have argued that household chores—often unpaid tasks fulfilled by wives, mothers, and daughters—have been misconstrued as distinct from “authentic” employment. This gendered nurturing role has been marginalized and disconnected from a male-centric labor movement.

In the US, such responsibilities have predominantly been shouldered by African American women who have had to mount vigorous collective actions despite adversities. Historically, household employees were disregarded in the labor landscape during the era of the New Deal. Subsequently, they have had to strive to equalize their rights as established for other professional categories by law. The National Domestic Workers Alliance along with other bodies have endeavored to transform this scenario. Post the pandemic, there has been an increase in movements like Wages for Housework—an initiative from the 1970s aimed at organizing and acknowledging household labor.

In her project, Chloe Aftel spotlights the daily pressures faced by these unnoticed workers. She shadows Vivian Siordia and Liezl Japona, both assisting workers in California, illustrating the everyday challenges and triumphs in this field. Siordia and Japona converse about the potential benefits of enhanced organization and support for household aides.

Aiding professional Vivian Siordia dressing Colin Campbell, a cerebral palsy patient, in the morning.

Colin’s footwear in his bedroom. Siordia has been his caretaker for a year, transitioning from her prior role as an educator.

Siordia assisting Colin out of bed at dawn. “Unionizing holds significance for me,” she expresses her support for the collective efforts to empower household workers. “I aspire to move in that direction.”

Siordia aiding Colin in dressing up in the morning.

Arianne Campbell preparing breakfast, featuring pancakes, for her son Colin and Siordia. “Arianne demonstrates exceptional professionalism, and I am grateful for the protection of my privacy and space,” recounted Siordia. “In some cases, if a live-in caregiver is hired, personal boundaries can be transgressed. Respect for personal rights should be a fundamental principle.”

Siordia and Campbell sharing a meal after Colin finishes his breakfast.

Siordia preparing to engage Colin in basketball playtime.

Colin and Siordia enjoying a game of basketball in the hallway of their apartment complex in the morning. Initially aspiring to be a nanny, Siordia seized the opportunity to work for Arianne Campbell. “It marked a significant transition for me that proved successful,” she reflects.

Colin and Siordia focusing on enhancing reading skills.

Arianne showcasing the upcoming events on Colin’s weekly calendar.

Vivian Siordia at her residence.

Caregiver Liezl Japona administering Dr. Irene Goldenberg’s initial medication dose of the day at Dr. Irene’s home in Los Angeles. Japona is associated with Hand in Hand, a national coalition of nannies, house cleaners, and home assistants advocating for improved labor conditions.

Japona, a seasoned caregiver with 23 years of experience—18 abroad and 5 in the US—engages in a discussion with Dr. Irene after the medication session.

Japona tending to the dishes post preparing breakfast for Dr. Irene.

Japona selecting attire choices for Dr. Irene. Presently, Japona allocates only 15 hours per week for this role.

Japona assisting Dr. Irene in adorning her jewelry for the day after aiding her in dressing up.

Japona tending to Dr. Irene’s wounds and massaging her legs. “Since my youth,” Japona reminisces, “I aspired to be a nurse, but financial constraints hindered that path. Hence, I chose to become a caregiver. I genuinely cherish my profession.”

Japona awaiting Dr. Irene by the stairs, preparing her walking aid.

Japona engaging in laundry chores for Dr. Irene.

Caregiver Liezl Japona at her home residence.