Negotiating Care and the Boundaries of Unionism: Chinese and Korean Immigrant Home Care Workers in California

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Jennifer CHUN, University of Toronto, Canada
Cynthia CRANFORD, University of Toronto, Canada
This paper examines how immigrant women enter and experience the care labor market in two urban ethnic communities: Oakland’s Chinatown and Los Angeles’s Koreatown. We draw upon semi-structured interviews and focus groups conducted with Chinese and Korean immigrant women to better understand how gender, kinship, and status hierarchies shape the experience of paid care work, including for one’s own parents and family members, as well as how unions and community organizations mediate the informal and intimate dimensions of home-based care. We find that the growth of the homecare sector through California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) system, which subsidizes home-based care for low-income, disabled seniors, has created a vibrant occupational niche for immigrant women workers who face limited job prospects due to aging, language ability, gender discrimination, and economic restructuring, yet the ambiguities of paid home care work as both public and private, paid and unpaid, and informal and formal exacerbate the conditions of both low-paid, precarious work and racialized gendered servitude. Some workers are able to turn to the union for newfound sources of social and organizational support, yet unions, which remain ensconced in the model of industrial trade unionism, have limited ability to influence the conditions of hybrid forms of care work. We draw upon workers' experiences of the complexities of paid care to discuss the potential of unions to address to the changing world of world of work, care and unionism, particularly for immigrant women who have long been neglected by formal labor movements and who work in urban ethnic enclaves with long histories of co-ethnic exploitation.