Alana Eichner is the D.C. chapter co-director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which advocates for the rights of caregivers and other household workers.
A Boston native, Eichner, 32, attends the non-denominational Sixth & I Synagogue where she has taught about antisemitism and now sits on its board of directors.
You were raised as a Humanistic Jew. How did that upbringing influence you?
The Jewish home that felt comfortable to my parents for our family when I was growing up was a mix of my parents’ upbringing. I loved humanistic Judaism. It left me with a really strong connection to my identity as a Jew. It left me with the best of Judaism’s commitment to social justice and a real love of the community.
We belonged to a Jewish congregation outside of Boston. My family was quite involved there. My mom worked as the director for many years at that synagogue. And the idea [of Humanistic Judaism] resonated with me as well.
I think a lot of folks aren’t familiar with Humanistic Judaism, but it’s a really wonderful branch of Judaism that speaks to Jews who are atheists and don’t believe in God. And that was where I was at in my connection to Judaism and theology during most of my mid-20s.
Are you still a Humanistic Jew?
One thing that’s special to me about Sixth & I is that it has changed and deepened my connection to Judaism and to God in theology, but I still hold my Humanistic Jewish upbringing very, very dearly. I’ve come to find a lot of meaning in a connection to God and a connection to the divine.
How did you get involved with the labor movement?
My grandmother was a domestic worker, and though I never met her, I grew up hearing stories about her time as a live-in nanny and house cleaner. In many ways, that job saved her life because it allowed her to leave a very challenging, troubled home life and move out to go work as a live-in domestic worker for a family.
That story was always present in my family growing up, and my grandmother and parents are very social justice-oriented folks.
I moved to D.C. in 2013 and started to do a lot of national policy advocacy. But I focused on women, and public advocacy for policies that particularly impact women. So, for instance, work around childcare and raising the minimum wage and paid leave. And women in politics and policy have been my focus for a long time.
The domestic labor movement is very much dominated by women, who make up about 95% of domestic workers. In addition to racism, sexism is a big reason these jobs are not valued — they’ve often been done by women, so they’ve been thought of as not being real work. And in our work at National Domestic Workers Alliance, we speak to that very explicitly — that these are for the most part women’s jobs, and that they need to be valued because women have always done this essential caregiving work.
The labor movement and unionization have been hot topics lately. How has that affected your work?
One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was the recognition of essential workers, which was a term that had never really been used before. At the National Domestic Workers Alliance, we know that nannies and homecare workers have always been essential workers. There is this increased recognition now — if you talk to anyone who tried to balance their work with caring for a child or elderly relative during the pandemic, they’ll tell you just how essential this paid labor is.
But we do have a care crisis in this country. People are always aging, and they need assistance and homecare. But there’s just not enough people who can provide that. We’re in this crisis where parents can’t afford childcare and the elderly can’t afford assisted living, but those care workers aren’t earning livable wages or benefits. We’re at a tipping point where caring for and valuing workers needs to be part of the solution. ■