Domestic Workers Alliance takes Bill Of Rights drive national
National Domestic Workers Alliance founder, Ai-jen Poo, testifies before Congress.

WASHINGTON —The National Domestic Workers Alliance is taking its drive for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights national, combining an online petition with extensive testimony before sympathetic Democrats on the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

Illinois, Oregon, California, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia, plus Seattle and Philadelphia, have passed their own Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. NDWA founder Ai-jen Poo and C. Nicole Mason, a PhD who heads the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, laid out the case for a nationwide statute on July 28.

“You will find domestic work is much more than meets the eye. They are teachers, nurses, confidants, coaches, event planners and much more” and should be treated with respect and rights many other workers now have, such as overtime pay, Ai-jen Poo urged.

If approved, HR4826, the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, would do just that. It would ensure the nation’s 2.2 million-plus domestic workers “access to a safe workplace,” by setting standards their employers must meet.

Besides overtime pay, it would give them sick leave and “protection from discrimination and harassment,” she testified. And it would “afford domestic workers the right to meal and rest breaks, establish written agreements to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities and protect against losing pay due to last minute cancellations,” an NDWA fact sheet says.

“A standards board will allow employers, enforcement agencies and workers to work together to improve the industry. Finally, this bill makes these protections real by providing resources for implementation,” though Ai-jen Poo did not say how much money was involved.

Ai-jen Poo’s prepared statement also did not include raising the minimum wage for domestic workers to $15 an hour. In the original version of his now-dead Build Back Better Act, Democratic President Joe Biden advocated it for nursing home workers—who are also overwhelmingly women of color–tipped workers, and workers with disabilities.

But to keep the pressure on lawmakers, in both the House and the evenly split Senate—though it didn’t say so—NDWA launched the online petition at

“While the hearing marks a historic step towards moving the bill to the House floor for a vote and winning critical legislation for domestic workers, we need to ensure Congress acts with urgency to protect and respect domestic workers!” the petition declares.

“As we speak, there are millions of working parents and family caregivers counting on nannies, home care workers and cleaners to enable them to work,” Ai-jen Poo told Subcommittee Chair Rep. Alva Adams, D-N.C., whose mother was a domestic worker.

“This is the work that produces the human potential in our children, the quality of life of our aging elders, and supports the dignity and independence of our loved ones with disabilities. The act of caring

for others is what makes us human,” Ai-Jen Poo continued.

The coronavirus pandemic “helped us remember how essential care is to our lives, especially for women,” she said—even though hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, especially those involved in home health care, were thrown out of work by the virus’s spread.

Yet without the domestic workers to care for little kids, aging parents or the disabled, other “higher-class” work would be difficult, if not impossible, in the age of a working parent family, regardless of whether it’s one parent or two.

Even before the pandemic hit, domestic care was “some of the most insecure and undervalued work in the economy,” Ai-Jen Poo explained. “It’s still treated as ‘help,’ and less than real work. The jobs are low-quality, low-wage jobs, where women work incredibly hard and still live in poverty, face rampant discrimination and harassment,” and lacked even sick days when the virus struck.

That’s because, as a result of racism when the original Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, domestic workers—even then, mostly Black women—were excluded. So were agricultural workers, even then either Spanish-speaking or Black men, for the same reason. That old racism is compounded by the fact that domestic worker women toil in “hidden” workplaces “behind closed doors in private homes.”

Domestic workers are “undervalued in our economy due to its (domestic work’s) roots in forced enslavement and indentured servitude,” Mason elaborated.  As a result, domestic workers “were left out of a variety of federal labor protections throughout the 20th century leaving these workers particularly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation.

“The Covid-19 (coronavirus) she-cession” exposed that vulnerability. Domestic workers were among those most impacted as employers closed their homes.” Many could not seek or get jobless benefits “and did not have sufficient access to paid sick leave or health insurance.”

Adams and subcommittee Democrats were sympathetic and promised to push the bill, originally crafted by House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramilla Jayapal, D-Wash., with aid from the Service Employees. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the companion Bill of Rights there.

“Domestic workers allow Americans to live with dignity and independence and make it possible for family caretakers to contribute to communities,” said Adams. “Though domestic work is vital to the lives of countless Americans, federal labor laws do not sufficiently protect domestic workers.”  Since the nation’s basic minimum wage and overtime pay law excludes domestic workers, their median wage is $12 an hour “compared to $20 for other workers.”

Needless to say, the panel’s Republicans want to keep the nation’s domestic workers in their place, though the party was careful not to use that racially loaded phrase. Instead, their leader, Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., cloaked their objections to HR4826 by claiming it loads “onerous federal regulations” onto individual families that employ domestic workers.


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.