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Meet the Women Fighting for Justice this African American History Month

You don’t have to tell family child care providers Nancy Harvey and Tonia McMillian that jobs done by black women are among the lowest paid in our nation; they feel this injustice acutely. They love their work opening children’s eyes to learning and being there for moms who face the same challenges they do — watching the bills pile up no matter how many hours they put in.

The fact that African American women average just 65 cents in pay for every dollar a white man takes home is more than a fact of today’s life, it’s a reality rooted in decades of racism and sexism. So it’s fitting that it’s this February — African American History Month — that Tonia, Nancy, and thousands of their sisters will channel their passion for children and their support for working women into a campaign to improve our collective future. As they demand a union to have a voice in their profession, they’re standing on the shoulders of iconic labor leaders and civil rights heroes who’ve defeated down economic and racial injustices by standing together.

Eight decades ago, work caring for children and other jobs commonly held by women and African Americans were excluded from New Deal era laws like the minimum wage and overtime that helped generations of Americans lift their families into the middle class. Today, child care providers are still fighting for the respect and middle-class opportunities they’re long overdue. Child care providers who work as part of the state’s early education system are still excluded from California’s minimum wage, and earn an average of just $4.98 an hour.

That California’s state government has refused to family child care providers more than poverty wages is particularly outrageous considering these jobs exist to help other parents be successful moving from public assistance to self-sufficiency, and to close the state achievement gap by giving at-risk youth a chance to catch up to their peers before starting kindergarten.

Nancy Harvey’s family child care has served Bay Area families for more than 10 years, focusing on children ages 0-3 years old. A former third grade teacher, Nancy knows her unique calling is to help prepare children for success in K-12 classes. Unfortunately, her calling has come at the cost of her own family’s economic security – a common situation for providers. “While I am told by many that my work is valued as a child care provider, I don’t see it. And that’s why I keep fighting for better conditions and respect for my fellow providers.”

Nancy knows winning a union is a tough challenge – but one worth fighting for. As she gears up to educate Californians, including our next Governor, about what’s at stake for child care providers, the parents they serve, and the children who deserve a fair shot at a strong future, she’s buoyed by the knowledge she’s not in the fight alone. In fact, standing together with her sisters in child care is what the fight is about.

Tonia McMillian, a family child care provider from Bellflower has seen that child care providers have strength in numbers: a decade ago, she and her fellow providers faced down an unjust payment system that cheated child care workers out of wages. A union means building respect for the profession and making early education a priority. “If there was ever a time for us to come together on something we can all care about—our littlest learners—now is the time. I’m ready to continue to fight for increased access for parents to quality care that doesn’t bankrupt them—and for more access to training and better wages for those of us providing the care.”

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