Domestic workers are a visible fixture where I live in Manhattan, caring for the elderly, cleaning apartments, shepherding kids to playdates and playgrounds while mom and dad are at work. But in many ways, they have long been an invisible and exploited workforce. They are considered “help” and not “labor” by truly misguided social convention. And they often aren’t afforded the same rights other workers are: being paid on the books, receiving compensated sick and vacation time, getting benefits like health care and social security, and freedom from harassment and retaliation.
A new survey just released by Domestic Workers United — the first comprehensive national survey of domestic workers — shows how incredibly pervasive these problems are for a workforce that is largely comprised of women of color, and includes many undocumented immigrants.
During the past eight years, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has been a key ally in Domestic Workers United’s fight for fair treatment of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers. As part of its Shalom Bayit [peace in the home] campaign, JFREJ has assisted the organization in determining best practices for employers of domestic workers, and joined DWU in Albany to lobby for a domestic workers bill of rights. Now their work is paying off.
The New York Senate earlier this month passed the bill of rights, a year after the Assembly passed a similar bill. The legislation affords domestic workers — nannies, housekeepers and home assistants — basic workplace rights, such as termination notice and sick pay, as well as legal recourse to take action against an abusive employer. Domestic workers were not included by President Roosevelt in the National Labor Relations Act, and have since been excluded from the protections given to most other workers in the United States.
Sarah Fields, program coordinator at JFREJ, spoke recently The Sisterhood about the organization’s involvement in the campaign for domestic workers’ rights.