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Local domestic worker becomes national worker rights leader

By Ileana Najarro, Houston Chronicle, Published May 24, 2019

Photo by Marie D. De Jesús / Staff Photographer

Julia De Leon kneeled on the kitchen floor of a Bellaire house, scrubbing it clean with her hands because her employer demanded it.

She felt an ache in her abdomen each time she bent down. She made a crude mop out of some supplies she found in the house to make the job easier, but her employer took it away.

De Leon had two young daughters to raise on her own. The Bellaire homeowner paid $55 a day for seven hours of work. De Leon needed the job to make rent.

So she did as she was told, took what she was offered. She just needed to make enough for her daughters, to give them a chance at a better future. Everything she did, she did for them.

That was in the early 1990s. Today, she would not accept anything less than fair.

De Leon, 55, now splits her time between cleaning Houston apartments, houses and mansions and serving as the vice president of the Board of Directors for the Fe y Justicia Worker Center. She is also a local leader for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

She hands out safety supplies to day laborers on street corners. She travels to Washington, D.C., to speak before members of Congress. Earlier this year she even attended a star-studded Oscars party in Los Angeles which honored her and other national domestic worker leaders.

De Leon negotiates her pay and duties, not just for herself, but to help establish a new normal for the thousands of other women doing the same work across Houston every day.

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