Progressive lawmakers introduce national domestic workers rights bill
Members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. | NDWA

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Saying it’s time to legally stand up for the nation’s millions of domestic workers, the co-chair of the influential House Progressive Caucus and a top Democratic presidential contender introduced a nationwide domestic workers’ rights bill on July 15.

If enacted, the legislation by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., would bring a measure of job equity to one of the nation’s most-exploited groups of workers: Maids, house cleaners, nannies, and home health care assistants among them.

Ninety percent of those 2.5 million workers are women and the overwhelming majority of them are women of color, migrants into the U.S., or both.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), headed by noted activist Al-Jen Poo, pushed the Domestic Workers Bill Of Rights through in nine states: New York, Illinois, Oregon, California, Nevada, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and New Mexico, plus the city of Seattle. NDWA now wants to take it nationwide.

“For the first time in history, we have a chance to raise the bar for every domestic worker in our country, and set the stage for all working people,” said Ai-Jen Poo.

The workers need it. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act and the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act—the nation’s two basic labor laws, one which OKs the right to organize and the other which establishes the minimum wage and overtime pay—exempt domestic workers.

That’s a legacy of racism and sexism: FDR needed the support of segregationist Southern Democrats to pass both, and their price was deliberate omission of jobs held by Black and brown people, including domestic work for women and farm work for Hispanic-named people of both sexes.

The five-man GOP-named majority on the U.S. Supreme Court continued that racist legacy several years ago, ruling against the Service Employees when they sued on behalf for minimum wages on behalf of an home health care worker who was among those they were trying to organize.

Without legal rights, the workers are open to both exploitation and abuse, NDWA says. The bill of rights would outlaw sexual harassment and racial discrimination against the domestic workers, among other provisions. It would also establish a national wage standards board to set pay, and ensure domestic workers who toil as live-in caregivers or nannies get decent pay, not pennies.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., introduced the bill. | AP

“Domestic workers do the work most precious to us: Caring for our homes and loved ones. But they don’t have the basic rights and dignity they deserve,” Ai Jen-Poo says on NDWA’s website. Many don’t even have written contracts and can be fired on a whim.

“Home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners have been excluded from basic labor protections. Many domestic workers are afraid to speak up about wage theft, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions because they fear losing their jobs or being torn from their families by deportation,” the site adds.

Provisions of the legislation include:

—Bringing domestic workers under labor and civil rights laws.

—Mandated paid overtime, safe and healthy working conditions, rest and meal breaks, and penalties for lawbreakers, including employers or clients who sexually harass the workers.

—New protections to “address the unique challenges of domestic work,” such as mandated written agreements, fair scheduling, the wage and standards board, and support for survivors of sexual harassment.

—A know-your-rights hotline and information, “co-enforcement mechanisms, and provisions to protect against retaliation.”

“The work of domestic workers is so incredibly important, both as caregivers and as organizers. This is the work our economy is built on, yet too often, it’s undervalued and underappreciated,” Harris said. “We all deserve basic rights, safety, and dignity in the workplace. By fighting for fairness and equal treatment, we are fighting for the best of who we are as a country.”

“We have to look at is the cost of not providing these basic civil rights protections to what is now one of the fastest growing workforces in the country,” said Jayapal. “It underpins our economy.”

“As people live longer, we have the opportunity to embrace an intergenerational future in America, where all of us are cared for at each stage of our lives. All of us deserve to work and live with safety and dignity, and this legislation ensures that no one is left behind,” Ai Jen-Poo added.



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.