As the Bay Area economy has boomed, so has the demand for housekeeping services — and the 110-member La Colectiva run out of the Day Labor Center on Cesar Chavez has thrived, employing new members and even creating new businesses.
“It’s grown a lot, and keeps growing. Right now there are maybe eight new faces at every meeting,” said Guillermina Castellanos, La Colectiva’s founder.
And no one is more surprised than the 54-year-old Castellanos. When she started the collective in 2000, it took her eight months to just get a job. Nowadays, new members can get a job the same week they walk into the center, and often the jobs can lead to full-time work.
“I used to have to pawn my stuff at first just so the collective could function,” she said. “I didn’t start getting full-time pay until 2007.”
And then things got better.
Beyond finding employment for its members, the center holds Wednesday evening meetings that include training workshops, planning for fundraisers, and discussions of future political campaigns. Most recently, it has been involved in pushing Assembly Bill 2314, which would create a Domestic Work Enforcement Pilot Program “to improve education and enforcement of labor standards in the domestic work industry.”
Yet back in 2000, Castellanos’s agenda was less ambitious: “I wanted to form it with the idea that workers get empowered, they band together and organize,” she said. “We’re in a country with laws, and those laws should be respected, but people have to respect us.”
That ethos was a clarion call for some of its members. Ana Martinez joined La Colectiva in 2015 in a stroke of luck that some would say came several decades too late. Already, she had spent some 30 years working seven days a week for a wealthy San Francisco family. An immigrant from Mexico, she never once considered she might be entitled to days off, vacation time and overtime pay.
Someone suggested she attend a meeting at La Colectiva. “They said in the meeting that it doesn’t matter what your sex, religion or status is,” she recalled. “They didn’t ask for anything, just for us to follow the rules. Everyone is equal.”
Her employer, she learned, ignored her right to vacation and overtime pay. She quit that job and began taking referrals from the collective.
Like other collective members she got paid at least $20 an hour and secured a minimum of $80 per job. The rates are $10 higher if the worker has to provide cleaning supplies, but employers can also have $10 deducted from their fees if they provide non-toxic cleaning supplies.
“Right now we don’t have a way to count all of the job references we get, there are just too many,” Castellanos said.
Unsurprisingly, the economy has helped. In the decade after the 2008 recession, membership at La Colectiva has increased almost 80 percent — evidence of a recovery, but also Castellanos said, a result of positive word-of-mouth recommendations and active outreach with members distributing pamphlets and posters across their communities.
While the male day laborers who also work out of the Day Labor Center on Cesar Chavez have difficulty getting enough work, the women are doing well. Castellanos said that some workers are able to bring in $600 in a day after cleaning up to five houses.
“I have always had work at least once a week. Always. We’re always busy,” said Raquel Botella, a 14-year veteran of La Colectiva who has weathered the ups and downs of the local economy.
A typical assignment begins with a phone call from the program’s offices that schedules her for a home-care assignment, or a house-cleaning call. Some of the jobs — like a job caring for a senior resident in Benicia – become permanent. Botella stays busy and can count on three jobs a week from the collective.
In an average year, the collective will generate nearly $300,000 for its members, Castellanos said.
At least one member has started her own cleaning business.
That member was Martinez. “Jacob’s Cleaning Service” is named after her son.
The business has contracts with several offices in the Mission District, including Impact Hub and Dolores Street Community Services.
“My own dream was to be independent and have my own company. Like everyone else who migrated here, we want to have our own things,” Martinez said. “The collective helped.”