Nannies and housekeepers are some of the lowest paid workers in the U.S., facing high rates of exploitation, poor working conditions, and harassment from employers. This is because domestic workers perform “feminine” work, which has historically been done for free in the private household, and is still undervalued, if accounted for at all, in the market. Yet they are the backbone of our economy, tending to our elderly and our children, performing the necessary care work that sometimes gets neglected in busy two-earner homes.
In the United States, immigrant women make up for a majority of domestic workers, accounting for the “feminization of migration” in the last few decades, as they leave their own families behind to earn an income in wealthier countries. Their movement out of their own homes enables women in receiving countries to do the same and to participate in greater numbers in the work force.
However, the informal economy of domestic workers’ labor is often unrecognized by the law. Only 8% of the 67,000domestic workers in the state of Massachusetts have written contracts with their employers. The vast majority work under verbal agreements.
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As a result, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to labor abuse. About one fifth of housekeepers, and one third of nannies and caregivers make less than the minimum wage. 50% of workers who live with their employers say that they are not allowed to have any breaks, and 25% say that they can’t even have uninterrupted sleep. About 20% have experienced verbal abuse and threats by their employers, but there is no formal way to report or file for these abuses under state labor laws.
On the final week of February, the Boston City Council passed a unanimous resolution in support of the Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (H. 3884), a bill which is currently being considered in the House Ways and Means Committee.
If passed, the bill would amend Massachusetts state labor laws to extend basic workplace protections to domestic workers, the majority of whom are low-paid immigrant workers under informal contracts who do not have the means to negotiate with their employers under abusive or dangerous work conditions.
Cosponsored by State Rep. Michael J. Moran (D) and Senator Anthony W. Petruccelli (D), and endorsed by 83 other legislators, this bill Massachusetts domestic workers the right to a signed contract from employers, formally outlining their duties, pay, time off, and other work arrangements.
The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights would give housekeepers, nannies, and caregivers the right to file complaints of abuse or harassment, protection from camera surveillance in their private living spaces, and protection from illegal charges for food or lodging, or threats of eviction without notice. It would also give these workers 24 hours off per 7-day calendar week, the right to meal and rest breaks, parental leave, sick time, rest periods, and notification of termination or severance pay.
Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu filed the resolution in Boston City Council, stating: “This legislation would extend basic workplace protections to domestic workers, including: clarity on what constitutes working time, freedom from discrimination, sexual harassment, and the abuses of trafficking and from retaliation for asserting wage violations.”
The Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers, a group of five immigrant and women’s organizations, is spearheading the legislative campaign, in a national and international movement towards recognizing the working rights of care laborers. New York was the first state to pass the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2010, joined in 2013 by Hawaii in May, and California in September. The bill did not pass the Senate in Oregon. There is also preparation for the bill to be considered in Texas and Ohio later this year.
The innovative grassroots organizing that domestic workers are doing, in the midst of a harsh climate for immigration reform, is a source of inspiration for many other communities, revitalizing the American labor movement.
On International Women’s Day, we come together in solidarity to recognize the progress that women have made around the world towards achieving equality in the workplace. Let’s not forget those whose workplace is our home.
Please support the work of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and push for the state of Massachusetts to pass the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, by signing this petition here, and giving your time to this worthy organization: https://www.domesticworkers.org/mass-bill-of-rights