Before Juana Camacho joined Liberty Cleaners, the country’s first women-led workers’ hub, she made less than minimum wage as a cleaner and felt she had no rights to negotiate with her employers. But as she organized alongside the women in the group, who together learned about their rights, from wages to safe working conditions, her perspective changed.

“I lost the fear,” she says. She began advocating for minimum wage—and now works for employers who pay it. “I had used my children to help negotiate deals, and now I can do that.”

Camacho is one of about 50 women who make up the quickly growing Liberty Cleaners, a group under the New York City–based Worker’s Justice Project that started four years ago with just a few women. In July, the group celebrated the completion of a first-of-its-kind training program, developed in partnership with the State University of New York’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies, with a focus on green cleaning, technology, and labor empowerment. A few weeks ago, the group kicked off ESL training at the Worker’s Justice Project Williamsburg HUB to support women negotiating in English.

“This was a group motivated to see a change, organize themselves, and grow,” says Maria Valdez, Worker’s Justice Project Williamsburg HUB director who leads the Liberty Cleaners. The group loosely modeled itself after Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of app delivery workers who also organize under Worker’s Justice Project.

Their early work included OSHA and “know your rights” trainings, as well as outreach to women day workers who gathered on a corner of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—known as La Parada—in search of work. As they continued to organize, the women rejected the title of domestic workers. “The word sounds like we’re being domesticated,” Valdez says. “We thought we deserved a name. … We identified as a powerful group of cleaners.”

Liberty Cleaners wanted to increase tech education among workers, with the goal of utilizing existing apps as well as developing an app to pick up jobs and ensure fair pay. They turned to SUNY’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies—which had previously worked with Los Deliveristas Unidos—about developing a curriculum that covered tech education alongside green cleaning and workers’ rights.

Read the full article about improving workers' rights in the cleaning industry by Emily Nonko at YES! Magazine.