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Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

PROBLEM:

Domestic workers are a crucial part of New York State’s economy, yet labor law does not protect them the way it does other workers. Domestic workers often work under harsh, exploitative conditions, but they are barred by federal law from collective organizing into unions. Additionally, they face unique barriers to organizing because they are isolated in the homes of their employers and have difficulty negotiating with powerful employers.

SOLUTION:

The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights addresses the longstanding, unfair exclusion of domestic workers from labor protections, reflects the unique conditions and demands of the industry in which they work, and clarifies employers’ obligations.

THE BILL AMENDS NY STATE LABOR LAW TO ENSURE:

1. A living wage, phased in from $12.00 to $14.00 per hour by 2010.
2. Employer choice to provide health care coverage or a wage supplement.
3. Other basic work standards:
-Time-and-a-half at the regular rate for every hour over 40 hours per week;
-One day off per 7-day calendar week;
-Up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave;
-Paid time off for vacations and holidays;
-Paid sick days;
-Advance notice of termination;
-Severance pay in accordance with number of years worked.

4. A method for domestic workers to enforce these work standards in court.

DOMESTIC WORKERS’ BILL OF RIGHTS
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. Why does the domestic work industry need special standards?

Domestic workers are isolated in separate households, making them uniquely vulnerable to labor abuses and even physical abuses. As a result, the more than 200,000 domestic workers in New York State often work long hours for low wages and often without basic protections such as sick days, health care, and protection against discrimination or retaliatory firing. Too often, they suffer in isolation under abusive conditions. Live-in domestic workers are particularly at risk, since they rely on their employers for shelter, food, phone, and in the suburbs, transportation.

2. Aren’t domestic workers covered by existing labor laws?

Barely. Domestic workers have far fewer protections than other workers under the federal and state wage statutes, and no protection at all under other key laws, such as the national labor relation law, employment discrimination laws, and the federal occupational safety law. For more information, see the handout “Domestic Workers under Labor Law.”

3. Why should domestic workers be legally entitled to specific benefits, such as sick days and severance, when a lot of low-wage workers aren’t?

No right to organize: Unlike other workers, domestic workers are not allowed to form labor unions and cannot organize with other workers to collectively bargain. As a result, domestic workers are often denied basic protections found in most workplaces. The Bill of Rights addresses this problem by providing for basic workplace benefits.

Medical and Sick Days: If a domestic worker falls ill, she often must work through her illness, or be denied pay during her recovery. Virtually no employers of domestic workers provide health insurance. Domestic workers’ vulnerability to illness affects not only themselves and their families, but exposes their employers’ families to illness as well. Domestic workers are exposed to contagious illnesses that children frequently get, and are often required to work with toxic chemical cleaners without proper safety protections. This puts them at risk of asthma, eye and skin irritation, headaches, and burns. Domestic workers also suffer repetitive motion and lifting injuries. All of these health problems are exacerbated by the lack of sick days and health insurance.

Personal Days: Domestic workers work long hours, sometimes 10 to 16 hours per day, and many do not receive personal days. This means that domestic workers often cannot make doctors appointments that take place during the hours they are at work. Personal days are crucial to allow domestic workers to take care of their own and their families’ health, and to properly do their jobs.

Termination and Severance: Many domestic workers are fired without notice or severance after years of service, without recourse. Live-in workers who are fired without notice face the sudden and simultaneous loss of their job and their home.

4. Why $12 per hour?

$12 per hour, increasing to $14 per hour in 2010, is the living wage that allows a domestic worker to be self-sufficient, supporting herself and her family without being forced to rely on public assistance. A majority of domestic workers are the primary earners in their families. These wages are about the same as the cut-off for food stamp eligibility – $12.91 for a family of four in 2007.

$12 per hour, amounting to less than $25,000 annually, is already the wage paid by many employers of domestic workers in New York State today. However, some employers take advantage of domestic workers by paying extremely low wages. The Bill of Rights seeks to make this an enforceable wage for all domestic workers.

Consider that the average salary for a “maid” or “housekeeping cleaner” (e.g. in a hotel) in New York State is $26,250 annually, or $12.62 per hour. Domestic workers, who care for New Yorkers’ homes and children, should be guaranteed at least as high a wage.

5. Will this bill hurt working class families who can’t afford to pay a living wage?

No. The New York State residents affected by the Bill of Rights are those who have already decided that their own finances are secure enough to afford to hire one or more domestic workers. Most employers are in extremely high-income occupations.

Tens of thousands of New York families opt to place their children in licensed day care centers, family child care homes, Head Start programs, state-funded pre-kindergarten programs, and publicly and privately subsidized after-school programs.

(citations available here)

2 comments

  1. […] written about this before extensively so I don’t want to repeat myself. The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights is the only sensible next step in teaching ourselves and each other how to value traditional […]


  2. Hi, I am gald to come across to your website. As I am the programme officer of domestic workers programme, at my organisation, I have been working towards standards setting for doemstic workers, and eventual inclusion of domestic workers under national labour laws. Your bill of rights is invaluable for us to see what legal initaitves are being undertaken in elsewhere. We have launched One-Day-Off campaign in Asia. In Solidarity, Valentina. Malaysia.



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