The first law in the United States establishing rights for domestic workers—privately employed nannies, housekeepers, and elder-care providers—went into effect in New York state in November.
“This is a workforce that has been excluded from the labor laws of this country, whose work has never been seen as real work … who work long hours—sometimes 50 and 70 hours per week for less than minimum wage,” says Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, organizing coodinator of Domestic Workers United (DWU).
A study by DWU found that of more than 200,000 domestic workers in New York state, 26 percent made wages below the poverty line or below minimum wage, 43 percent worked 50 hours a week or more, an 67 percent didn’t receive pay for overtime.
The new law, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, requires a minimum of one day off a week, three days paid vacation a year, overtime pay, and protection against discrimination and harassment.
DWU, a New York-based organization that informs workers of their rights at the neighborhood level, campaigned for six years for the new law. It is now advocating for inclusion of domestic workers in the New York State Labor Relations Act, which would provide them the right of collective bargaining.
In California, a domestic workers rights bill passed by the state assembly in 2006 was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Organizations working to pass another law in the state are encouraged by the success in New York, while domestic workers in Massachusetts and Colorado are campaigning for domestic workers’ rights laws in their states.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, an association of
33 member organizations, is aiming for reform of regulations at the federal level that will allow the Department of Labor to improve enforcement of laws protecting domestic workers.
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