July 17, 2019; People en Español
Today, 2.5 million domestic workers provide care within homes without protection from sexual harassment, discrimination, and low wages. If the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act passes, all that could change.
While the fight for equal rights for domestic workers has gone on for decades, this bill has the potential to extend rights to domestic workers who have been left out of federal labor laws.
Introduced by Senator Kamala Harris (CA) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), the bill is already cosponsored by a long list of Democratic legislators, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), who was inspired by her own childhood to support the bill.
“My mom was a domestic worker, and as a child I grew up reading books on the staircases of other people’s homes, and doing homework on other people’s dinner tables, because my mom was pursuing domestic work so that I could go on field trips and have a future,” Representative Ocasio-Cortez shared.
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Within the domestic work sector, 90 percent are women, and most are women of color and immigrants. As our population ages, the sector will continue to be one of the fastest growing in the country.
Throughout US history, domestic workers have been excluded from major legislation that protected the rights of workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 created the right to a minimum wage and overtime but did not include domestic workers who were seen as doing women’s work or work historically given to slaves. Their work was not considered equal to that of other workers.
Congress expanded the act in 1974 to include some domestic workers, but the amendments did not apply to workers providing “companionship services” and did not include overtime pay for live-in workers. Revisions in 2015 provided a narrower definition of exempt “companionship services” and prevented third party employers from denying live-in domestic service employees overtime pay, but loopholes and exclusions still left many domestic workers without protection.
So, what does the new Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act have to offer?
- The inclusion of domestic workers in common workplace rights and protections. Currently, not all domestic workers are guaranteed the following rights and protections that are included in the bill: overtime pay, paid sick days, protection from harassment and discrimination, meal and rest breaks, cleaning supply safety and health information, privacy, and adequate termination notice for live-in workers who will need to find a new place to live.
- The introduction of new rights and benefits that address challenges unique to domestic work. The new bill would create a standard written agreement between employers and domestic workers, fair scheduling, assistance through a support hotline, and a Wages and Standards Board to give domestic workers the opportunity to organize. Studies would be funded and recommendations developed to improve support for sexual harassment survivors, understand and improve domestic workers’ access to affordable healthcare and retirement benefits, and develop long-term career opportunities that could lead to better wages and career advancement.
- The implementation and enforcement of domestic worker rights. Education and outreach would be provided to workers and employers so they understand these new workers’ rights, and protections would be strengthened so domestic workers can exercise these rights without fear of retaliation. Funding would also be set aside to keep changes affordable for Medicaid consumers.
Currently, eight states and one city have enacted similar laws in the last decade. Now, the future of domestic work could be determined at a national level.—Julie Euber