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Posts Tagged ‘domestic workers’

The First-Ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Was Just Unveiled—And It’s a Game Changer

Friday, November 30th, 2018

When Rosa Sanluis arrived in the United States, she earned $60 per week for a seemingly endless set of household tasks, working for a family in Texas. She worked from 5 a.m. until late at night, sometimes 3 a.m. on weekends, when her employers would go out and leave her to babysit. Like most domestic workers, Sanluis didn’t receive a written contract, uninterrupted breaks, sick leave, or overtime pay—because she wasn’t entitled to them under law.

Today, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) announced a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise wages and labor conditions for workers like Sanluis. The legislation is expected to be introduced when the new Congress convenes next year.

“It is time—and past time—to fully correct the historical injustice that left a workforce largely made up of women of color shut out of the protections of core labor standards,” Rebecca Smith, Work Structures Director of the National Employment Law Project, tells In These Times. 

Co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the legislation draws on the recommendations of domestic worker leaders as well as similar bills of rights for domestic workers that have been passed in eight states and in Seattle. “Domestic workers are shaping the future of our economy,” Jayapal tells In These Times in a statement. “Their strength, courage and power inspires us all as we fight together for workplace democracy.”

The legislation would include domestic workers in Civil Rights and Occupational Health and Safety Act protections, and require fair scheduling, meal and rest breaks, written contracts and protection from retaliation. It would also increase access to retirement benefits, paid sick leave, healthcare and training programs. Additionally, the bill seeks to facilitate collective bargaining by domestic workers and would establish a federal task force on domestic workers’ rights. 

The bill offers special protections to live-in domestic workers, who were previously ineligible for overtime pay. These workers are especially likely to work long hours without breaks, and to report that their employers expect them to be constantly on call, even during scheduled time off.

“Absolutely [overtime pay] would have changed my life,” Sanluis says through an interpreter. “When you’re earning so little, your access to things is completely limited.” The bill would also guarantee live-in workers’ right to privacy and adequate notice in case of termination–a protection that’s especially important when losing a workplace also means losing a home.

Working in private homes, and largely excluded from Civil Rights Act sexual harassment protections, domestic workers are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, these workers are demanding substantive workplace protections in the form of access to “panic buttons”—devices required by law in some cities that can be activated in case of sexual harassment or threats—along with research into federal policies to support domestic worker survivors.

Silvia Reyes, a nanny in New York who described being sexually harassed by her former employer, says, “It’s not fair to feel insecure in your work, and to feel scared and feel alert all the time. It’s a horrible thing to have happen to you every single day, the whole day.”

The bill comes at a pivotal time for domestic workers and those who rely upon them. Women, traditionally the caretakers of children and the elderly, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. And the American population is aging rapidly: Every eight seconds, a baby boomer turns 65. Women, including women with children, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. “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,” says NDWA Executive Director Ai-jen Poo in an emailed statement. 

“Quality care and workers’ rights are inextricably linked,” says Nik Theodore, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of urban planning and policy. When workers have economic security, he explains, they’re able to provide higher-quality care.

In response to the demand for their services, the number of domestic workers is growing. By 2030, caregiving is predicted to represent the largest segment of America’s workforce. And domestic workers are “some of the most vulnerable workers,” says Barnard College history professor Premilla Nadasen. Ninety-five percent are women and more than half are women of color. An estimated 45 percent are immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center, both documented and undocumented.

Like many workers who are employed in what’s considered “women’s work,” domestic laborers are chronically underpaid. According to a 2017 report from the NDWA, less than half of domestic workers are paid enough to adequately support a family, and 20 percent report that, in the last month, there have been times when they had been unable to afford food.

When the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act were enacted in the 1930s, both excluded domestic workers, leaving them without the minimum wage, overtime, and collective bargaining protections offered to other workers.

“Southern congressmen were fearful that granting black workers labor rights would disrupt the racial order of the South,” Nadasen says. “And Northern labor leaders representing industrial unions also never saw domestic workers as part of their constituency and did not advocate for their rights.”

In 1974, domestic workers finally won the federal minimum wage and other protections, but those protections still weren’t extended to casual workers like babysitters, or companions to the elderly. As Lizzy Ratner wrote in The Nation in 2009:

Because most domestic workers labor in environments with fewer than fifteen employees, they are also excluded from such key civil rights legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII, which bars most kinds of employment discrimination. Add to this the difficulty of enforcing even the few protections that do exist—particularly for undocumented workers—and for many domestic workers it’s still 1934.

“We see the gaps that still exist,” says the NDWA’s Marzena Zukowska. “There are [domestic] workers who live in states that aren’t friendly to workers’ rights or immigrants’ rights,” like Texas, which has the third highest number of domestic workers in the country, about half of whom are undocumented or lacking work authorization. “For the first time in history, we have a chance to raise the bar for every domestic worker in our country,” says Poo. 

For Sanluis—now an organizer with the Fuerza del Valle Workers Center—the success of prior bills is proof that federal legislation is achievable too. “Take a look at the bill, analyze it, be conscious of the fact that we are also human beings, and we deserve the same basic rights and protections as workers in other industries.” 

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 29, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Stoner is a writer in Chicago.

New U.N. Report Shows Just How Awful Globalization and Informal Employment Are for Workers

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

elizabeth grossmanFreedom of peaceful assembly and association, says a new United Nations report, “are essential to human dignity, economic empowerment, sustainable development and democracy. They are the gateway to all other rights; without them, all other human and civil rights are in jeopardy.” But these rights, says the report, are being jeopardized by the recent dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and their dependence on global supply chains and the growing informal and migrant workforce. While these rights are most imperiled in the world’s poorest countries, workers in the United States are also facing these problems.

Undertaken by the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the U.N. report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. In fact, worldwide, most workers are now without formal employment arrangements. According to the report, an estimated 60.7 percent of the world’s workers “labor in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated or socially protected.” In some countries this workforce rises to 90 percent. The report also notes that while such employment has always existed, the rise of global supply chains has “exponentially expanded its growth.” As a result, some 1.5 billion people or 46 percent of the world’s workers, now experience what the report calls “precarious employment.” More than 70 percent of people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work this way.

This workforce includes self-employed, contract and part-time workers, and day laborers—and often those working in special economic zones where, as the report describes, “worker protections are sharply reduced or eliminated in order to attract foreign investment.” It encompasses professions of all skill levels, from teachers, to taxi drivers, call-center and agricultural workers. These arrangements often involve on-call schedules, short-term contracts and multi-layered subcontracts—all of which add to workers’ difficulties in asserting rights and difficulties in enforcing labor laws. Women, because they make up the majority of the world’s agricultural and domestic workers, are especially burdened by the lack of labor protections.

As anyone working in this world knows, such jobs do not have typical employment benefits like health and unemployment insurance, sick leave, overtime pay and other wage protections. Workers have little opportunity to organize, form unions or bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. This situation, says the U.N. report, is contributing to wealth inequality worldwide.

But it’s not just globalization that’s swelling the ranks of workers whose right to organize is in jeopardy. Conflict, war and climate change are also contributing to the world’s growing migrant population that’s now its largest since World War II, notes Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center. These people “have become a major low-wage workforce that is excluded from opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions,” says De Souza. And, he explains, these workers are now woven into the fabric of world economics—sending to their home countries an estimated $580 billion in 2014.

The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)

The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)

The United States is no exception

While the impact of working without the freedom to organize is most dire in the world’s poorest countries, “the U.S. is no exception to the types of labor rights abuses the report lays out,” Oxfam America regional director Minor Sinclair tells In These Times. “The abuses of labor and the changes in the economy, and how that disadvantages labor and labor rights—the U.S. is as much caught up in that as any other country,” says Sinclair.

The economy’s structure is changing “in a way that disadvantages even more workers,” Sinclair explains. Whether through layers of subcontractors that ultimately employ factory workers in Bangladesh, U.S. meat processing workers or college graduates working the “gig economy,” the report reflects the fact that “increasingly, people don’t have employers that are responsible for workers’ rights,” says Sinclair. And this makes it “harder for workers to advocate for (these rights) and protections.”

The impacts of this situation are, of course, most acute at the low-wage end of the employment spectrum, a workforce that often includes immigrant workers. In the United States, as elsewhere, farmworkers and food processing workers are especially vulnerable and lacking in protected labor rights, as are domestic workers. The report says that in the United States, immigrant workers “who attempt to exercise their rights are often blacklisted by employers, who use the threat of denied future work opportunities to silence workers.”

Sinclair also notes the impact and rise of right-to-work laws across the United States, which are now in place in 26 states. “Basic labor rights, the right to unionize and right to strike, are severely compromised by right-to-work laws,” he says. The report describes what’s happened to workers in states in the U.S. South where these laws are in place—and how corporations have taken advantage of the lack of unionization.

Solutions

When it comes to solutions, the U.N. report sees little progress in support of workers’ freedom to assemble and organize coming from voluntary corporate social responsibility and auditing programs. Such programs, says the report, “are not a substitute for legally binding, robust enforcement of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.” It calls on businesses to refrain from anti-union policies and practices and to support labor rights throughout their supply chains, especially for workers in “vulnerable situations,” including migrant and minority group workers.

Despite this trend, Oxfam’s Sinclair says he sees “some real signs of hope in the legislative work around the right to $15 per hour and the new federal overtime regulation.” He also notes that, albeit slowly, corporations are beginning to realize that “rights erosion is not a sustainable business model.” That said, he also fears that we’re moving towards “a bipolar work situation,” where “some people have workers’ rights and some people don’t.” But because this situation now affects everyone from university teachers to auto manufacturing and farm workers, he also holds out hope the issue of workers’ rights will finally get substantive attention.

“We welcome the U.N. report and the opportunity it provides to raise awareness and highlight the many challenges workers still face globally in exercising this fundamental right to freedom of association,” Carol Pier, deputy undersecretary for international labor affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, said in a statement. “Working to protect and promote workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively is a priority for the Department, at home and abroad.”

Currently on the U.N. agenda: a legally-binding human rights agreement for corporations and businesses.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on October 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

Sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8th District) in the Senate and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th District) in the House, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights gives nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers and other domestic workers a minimum wage, protection from discrimination and sexual harassment and one day of rest every seven days for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week.

The law amends four other Illinois state laws—the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and the Wages of Women and Minors Act—to include domestic workers.

Over the past five years, the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition has campaigned to demand that domestic workers be provided with the same workplace protections that others have had for decades. Members gathered Tuesday at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago to celebrate.

“Finally, some of the hardest working people in the state of Illinois will receive the dignity and respect they deserve from their work environment,” said Rep. Hernandez.

Magdalena Zylinska, a domestic worker and board member of Arise Chicago, spoke about how demanding domestic work is.

“I have struggled to get by from low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job,” Zylinska said. “But today I am here to celebrate that our years of organizing have finally paid off.”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. While domestic workers have achieved victory in those states, the fight continues for a national bill of rights for domestic workers.

Worldwide, 90 percent of domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women—do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, according to the International Labour Organization. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of domestic workers are female, foreign born and/ or persons of color. They frequently lack protections and face near constant adversity.

“Women are an essential pillar of our society and our families, as you all have seen. The House listened to us. The Senate listened to us, and now the governor has listened to us,” said Maria Esther Bolaños, a domestic worker and leader from the Latino Union of Chicago.

She recalled days where she worked 12 hours and got paid just $12.00.

Grace Padao of AFIRE Chicago echoed Bolaños’ statements with struggles of her own, describing days of being isolated and alone in homes that were not her own, working seven days a week to provide for her family.

“From this day forward, domestic workers in Illinois will never have to face the conditions that I did,” Padao said.

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)

This article was originally posted at Inthesetimes.com on August 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Parker Asmann is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern at In These Times. He is an Editorial Board Member for the Chicago-based publication El BeiSMan as well as a regular contributor to The Yucatan Times located in Merida, Mexico. He graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with degrees in journalism and Spanish, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.

 

Nannies And Housekeepers In Illinois Just Won A Major Victory

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Bryce CovertMagdalena Zylinska has been working in people’s homes for most of the last two decades since she came to the United States from Poland. She spent some time as a nanny and a caregiver, but since 1997, she’s been a full-time housekeeper.

But it wasn’t until she took classes with Arise Chicago, a worker organization, in 2013 that she realized how few protections she had on the job. Domestic workers across the country aren’t protected by basic workplace regulations like requirements that they be paid minimum wage, given days off, or be free from harassment.

She’d already had some brushes with these challenges. On one job cleaning up a house after a construction company came in and did work, she says the contractor refused to pay her $1,000 she was owed. “There were really no regulations,” she said, and it would have been too costly and complicated to go to court seeking her money. “It’s really not worth it for us to spend the time and money and taking days off to go after that.” On top of that, employers will regularly hire her for one set of duties at a particular rate and then pack on more and more responsibilities without more pay.

So three years ago, Zylinska decided to do something about it and get involved with the fight to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Illionis, similar to those on the books in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. She traveled to the state capitol in Springfield and even as far as Washington, D.C. in pursuit of expanded rights.

And this week she and her fellow domestic workers tasted victory. The bill of rights they had been trying to move forward passed the state’s Senate and has already passed the House, so it will soon head to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R) desk.

The bill, if it gets signed into law, will guarantee domestic workers — including housekeepers like Zylinska as well as nannies and home care workers — the right to make minimum wage, be paid for all hours they work, get one day off a week, and be protected from sexual harassment at work. A 2012 survey of domestic workers across the country found that a quarter were paid less than minimum wage, leaving many in tough financial circumstances — 20 percent had to go without food because they couldn’t afford any. A third said they worked long hours without breaks while 85 percent said they didn’t get overtime pay. And 20 percent said they have faced threats, insults, or verbal abuse. But nearly all of those who experienced problems at work didn’t complain for fear of risking their jobs.

It’s still unclear whether Rauner will sign the bill, and his office did not respond to a request for comment. But those at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who were also involved in fighting for the bill, are optimistic given that it unanimously passed the Senate with bipartisan support. “As an organization, we feel confident that the Governor will see the value of singing the bill into a law,” said a spokesperson for the organization.

Zylinska is also feeling confident. “I think they realize that domestic workers make all the work possible and they’re very crucial to the economy,” she said. “I just hope the governor really will see that it’s really necessary for us to be protected.”

“We only want to be recognized as domestic workers, workers that have basic protection,” she added. “All we want is respect.”

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on May 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Domestic Workers Rights Bill Moves Forward in California

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaA Domestic Workers Rights bill is winding through California’s Capitol.

This week the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted in favor (5-2) of a domestic rights bill, but some tough concessions have been made, including the removal of vacation and sick day provisions from the bill.

One former domestic worker told KPFA: “In this labor committee hearing we lost vacation days, but we understand not all workers have paid vacation days. But we also earlier lost sick days, so most of the workers were going to use vacation days for sick days.”

Even so, the historic bill would provide some basic labor protections for the state’s estimated 200,000 domestic workers, which include nannies, caregivers and housekeepers.

Domestic workers, who are primarily immigrant women, are isolated and vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Workers are reluctant to complain to anyone about unfair pay, working more hours than they are paid, lack of breaks or sexual harassment, for fear of losing their jobs.

Many of the workers provide the main income in their families. According to a report released in 2007 “Behind Closed Doors,” 54 percent of the women interviewed were the main providers. In addition, 72 percent supported families in their country of origin.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would give these workers leverage to be treated fairly by creating guidelines for employers of domestic workers.

The bill, sponsored by Asssembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval and after that, to the full senate.

“We are making progress. It was a six-year project in New York State. Hopefully our bill will get to the governor’s desk,” said Quintin Mecke, Ammiano’s spokesman.

Just last year, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in New York.

Currently, domestic workers are excluded from all rights provided to all other California workers under Wage Order 15 — wage and hour protections.

“(The) committee vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” Ammiano said.

Historically, domestic workers have been exempted from laws that protect other workers and guarantee certain standards—such as fair wages, a safe and healthy workplaces, worker compensation, meal and rest breaks, overtime wages.

Said Jessica Lehman, employer of a personal attendant in her home and a member of Hand in Hand: Domestic Employer Association: “Employers have a vested self-interest in this campaign by working to support the (bill). We are investing in building communication and trust with workers who support some of the most intimate parts of our lives, providing home care to people with disabilities and elders, or caring for our children and our homes.”

The bill now goes to the fiscal committee, where it must also be approved before it goes to a final senate vote. It still needs to be signed into law by governor Jerry Brown, who recently vetoed a farm workers labor bill.

The domestic workers bill has received wide support from labor rights coalitions across the state.

There has been international attention to domestic workers rights as well. On June 16, the International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, passed a convention recognizing domestic work as “work.”

This blog originally appeared in These Times on July 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

Milestone for World’s Domestic Workers

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Domestic workers Guillerma Castellanos and Juana Flores during the historic committee vote.

Image: Liz ShulerToday, at the International Labor Organization’s 100th annual conference in Geneva Switzerland, the global community took a major collective step towards achieving economic and social justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers with the overwhelming adoption of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and accompanying recommendation.

More than 80 percent of the world’s governments, workers and employers voted in favor of the convention’s adoption, with 90 percent supporting the accompanying recommendation. In practice the convention and recommendation set out basic minimum rights and protections to which domestic workers within countries that ratify the convention are legally entitled. Symbolically, however, these instruments achieve much more.

By shining a global spotlight on domestic work and the conditions in which it is carried out, this convention and recommendation make the invisible visible. Today, for the first time in history, the international community acknowledges that domestic work—work performed in or for private homes—is indeed work. Further, the people who perform this work—overwhelmingly women, migrants and people from historically marginalized communities—are indeed workers, and thus entitled to the same rights and protections all other workers enjoy.

In approximately 40 percent of the world’s nations, the simple recognition of domestic work as work and domestic workers as deserving the same rights and protections that other workers enjoy flies in the face of exclusionary national labor laws and social protection regimes. The United States, unfortunately, is one such country. Domestic workers are excluded, along with farm workers, from the protections afforded to other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act. Today the global community definitively declared that such exclusions undermine the basic human rights of domestic workers.

For domestic workers in the United States, the practical consequences of the passage of this convention and recommendation are not immediately clear. International law does not take effect in a country unless that nation’s government agrees to ratify the law, and the United States very rarely does so. Still, domestic workers in the United States regard the passage of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers convention and recommendation as a major victory. Juana Flores, U.S. worker delegate to the ILO and co-director of Programs at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (Women United and Active) in San Francisco explains its significance for domestic workers in the United States:

This convention strengthens the voice of domestic workers in the United States who continue to organize, mobilize and advocate for the full realization of our basic human rights. As we work to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California and other states, as we have in New York, we now know we have the support of both the U.S. government and the international community. Knowing this emboldens us and gives us strength to continue fighting for the protections and benefits we, like all workers, deserve.

The AFL-CIO is proud to stand with Juana and the millions of domestic workers both within and outside the United States who have fought for this day for generations. Just last month the AFL-CIO formed a historic partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to work together to advance the voices of all workers. Today as we celebrate this momentous accomplishment we look forward to continuing to work together to make the full fulfillment of the rights of domestic workers a reality.

As Toni Moore, worker delegate from Barbados, expressed so eloquently at the convention’s adoption, “the time is always right to do what’s right,” and “we must not let dignity delayed become dignity denied.” The workers of the world call on our governments to do what’s right and ratify and fully implement the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and Recommendation.

After the vote, the workers unfurled a banner that read “C189. Congratulations! And now for the “domestic work” of governments. RATIFY.” Check out the video here.

Read the Convention here and the ILO Recommendation here.

This blog originally appeared on Afl-cio Now Blog on June 16, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Auhtor: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.

ILO Seeks Protections for Domestic Workers

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Image: Mike HallDomestic workers around the world play a crucial role in raising children, caring for the elderly and the infirm, and generally supporting those in need of household help. But these same workers are all too often exploited and have little recourse because they are largely excluded from the legal protections that safeguard almost all other workers.

This month at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual conference in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates will take a special look the plight of domestic workers and are expected to set a global standard outlining basic rights for domestic workers. The ILO is part of the United Nations.

In the opening statement for the United States at the first session of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers discussion, the Department of Labor’s Robert Shepard, said:

Domestic workers often work longer hours and receive less wages, while performing work that we can all agree involves a high level of responsibility.  Domestic workers are pillars of the modern service economy.  The majority of domestic workers are women and girls—oftentimes from predominantly migrant populations who work in isolated workplaces.  For these reasons domestic workers, and particularly for migrants and children, are vulnerable to many forms of exploitation, from nonpayment of wages to trafficking.

He noted that laws in many countries do not offer domestic workers the same kind of wage, working condition and other protections most workers enjoy. Even the ILO has not issued a global standard that offers these workers the promise of equal treatment. He urged the delegates to adopt a convention that would apply to all domestic workers. Shephard said the conventions should:

  • Ensure domestic workers have the same opportunity as other workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of  their work;
  • Include special provisions to prevent protect domestic workers from abuse, harassment, violence and trafficking;
  • Acknowledge that all parties must “respect, promote and realize . . . the fundamental principles and rights at work.”

Shephard also said employment agencies should be scrutinized. Many global employment agencies provide vital services for workers and employers, but:

We must be careful, however, that those intent on engaging in exploitive or abusive behavior toward domestic workers cannot hide behind the words “employment agency,” engaging in improper behavior while marring the good names of  real employment agencies.  And second, it is useful in this somewhat uncharted area to set down guidelines for the benefit of both the agencies and those they employ.

As Shephard told the delegates to the conference, which The conference runs through June 7:

We look forward, in the end, to all the governments, the workers, and the employers voting yes to equal treatment and voting “Yes” for justice.

Click here to learn more about the fight to win fairness for domestic workers around the globe.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on June 3, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

Domestic Workers Form Historic Partnership With AFL-CIO

Friday, May 13th, 2011

kari-lydersenNationwide, millions of domestic workers—largely immigrant women—labor long hours cleaning, cooking, taking care of other people’s children and otherwise performing necessary tasks for wealthier people whose own jobs or lifestyles don’t leave them time or energy for this work.

The work is frequently off-the-books and rarely covered by binding labor agreements or even individual contracts. They are not included under the National Labor Relations Act. There are ample horror stories of domestic workers being abused or even held captive by their employers.

On Tuesday, May 10, the AFL-CIO formally recognized domestic workers as members of organized labor, as an agreement was made between the AFL-CIO and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which includes 33 groups representing about 2.5 million domestic workers in 11 states and 17 major cities.

The NDWA has long been pushing for the strengthening of labor rights nationally for domestic workers and domestic workers bills of rights in individual states, including California. They claimed an historic victory last summer when New York passed a law granting domestic workers formal labor rights. The alliance is also calling for a convention on domestic workers’ rights under the International Labor Organization, which is part of the United Nations.

The agreement between the AFL-CIO and the NDWA says:

Through explicit and implicit exclusion of domestic workers from most labor and employment laws, domestic workers’ contributions to our nation’s and individual families’ household economies have gone hidden, devalued, and little understood.

This history of exclusion can be traced to the specifics of the industry and race politics. Primarily working in isolation in private homes, domestic workers who were predominantly African-American women were subjected to discrimination, unsafe working conditions, stolen wages, intimidation, and a long list of other abuses.

Although the demographics of domestic workers have changed to a mostly immigrant women workforce, the working conditions in the industry have changed very little.

Some of the rights sought by the NDWA are things so seemingly basic that they are not even an issue for almost every other profession—for example, the right to five hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and the right to cook their own food. The Alliance’s website says:

Domestic workers often labor around the clock, placing themselves and the people they care for at risk of sickness and unintentional mistakes caused by exhaustion.

The alliance also seeks—and in New York has obtained—the same things that workers are either guaranteed or seeking in other fields: paid sick days and paid vacation days, overtime, workers compensation.

The partnership could help further these goals on multiple levels, emphasizing that domestic workers are indeed “workers” entitled to the same rights as people in other jobs; and the aforementioned rights are things that all people should have access to. (People in other professions—including restaurant work, farm work and construction—are, of course, also typically denied paid sick days, vacation days and overtime.)

The partnership’s goals, as spelled out in the agreement, are:

—Local City and county level campaigns to enact ordinances or laws to expand protections and promote the rights of domestic workers;
—Statewide campaigns to establish labor standards for domestic workers;
—Campaigns to create administrative and regulatory changes at state and federal Departments of Labor;
National campaigns to establish labor standards, expand collective bargaining rights, create dignified jobs and support quality care for all, such as the Caring Across Generations campaign;
—International collaboration to bring visibility and dignity to the global domestic workforce, including the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention at the International Labor Organization.

The AFL-CIO and the domestic workers groups plan to accomplish these goals and generally increase the diversity and strength of the labor movement by fostering cooperation between state federations and local labor councils and domestic workers’ groups, in furtherance of both specific campaigns and general labor rights. This is part of a larger move to widen the scope of “organized labor” to include workers not traditionally represented by unions.

The agreement says:

Until these communities know each other, work with each other, and have an institutional connection to each other, it will be much more difficult to plan and strategize together, and to build a level of trust necessary to work effectively together in pursuit of our common goals and objectives.

The agreement also describes how domestic workers groups can affiliate with a local union, in keeping with the AFL-CIO’s National Worker Center program launched in 2006. The agreement also stipulates that the AFL-CIO and members of NDWA won’t compete with each other in situations where unions or domestic worker groups are organizing, and won’t undermine each other’s efforts.

While the agreement could have great concrete and symbolic effects for millions of domestic workers, it is limited to workers who are connected with domestic workers organizations. That means scores of domestic workers won’t be part of the partnership, likely including the most vulnerable workers in rural areas and/or in situations where they are highly isolated or exploited by their employers.

Hence continued outreach and organizing among domestic workers, continued strengthening and enforcement of labor laws, and even basic human rights protections—plus comprehensive immigration reform, as Michelle Chen noted yesterday—will be key to making sure domestic workers nationwide are truly empowered and protected.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on May 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

Global Unions Demand Rights for Migrant Workers

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Image: James ParksMany countries around the world, including the United States, depend on immigrant labor to boost economic development, but do not protect the rights of their immigrant workers. Trade union representatives at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GMFD) meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last week called on the world’s governments to respect and protect the rights of migrant workers.

In a statement, the global unions said governments must be vigilant in fighting against racism and xenophobia, which are on the rise in several countries. They also urged countries to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on migrant workers, eliminate abusive guest worker programs and assure the rights of domestic workers.

Says Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the Geneva-based Building and Wood Workers International:

Migrant workers contribute to the economic and social development; however, they are consistently marginalized, exploited, and abused. It is the fundamental responsibility of all governments to protect the rights of migrant workers.

While each country has its own particular experiences with migration, several common themes emerged at the conference. For example, nearly all the union representatives told of efforts to defend domestic workers from human rights abuses. In June 2010, the ILO took a giant step forward in the struggle to create workplace justice for the millions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers around the world, by beginning the  process to establish a first-ever international standard (“convention”) to protect the rights of domestic workers. If the convention is passed at the ILO’s meeting in 2011, it would require governments that ratify it to ensure domestic workers are covered by the fundamental rights and principles of the ILO, which include the freedom to form unions, elimination of forced labor, abolition of child labor and the elimination of discrimination.

Migrant workers face horrific treatment ranging from rape to torture, Ana Avendaño, assistant to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview with Frontera Norte Sur, a publication of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University.

The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions are working to protect migrant workers by helping them join unions and fighting for their rights under the law, Avendaño said. The AFL-CIO is actively supporting an international campaign to ratify the new convention on domestic workers.

“Domestic work is a particular kind of work, not just because it takes place in the household, but also because of its fundamental importance in the very fabric of society,” according to a statement by RESPECT, a European network of domestic worker groups and supporters.

Without provision for child care, care for the elderly, cooking and cleaning, society simply couldn’t function.

In the United States, New York State recently enacted a law that gives basic labor rights to domestic workers. Nationally, the AFL-CIO is supporting independent domestic worker efforts to form unions, Avendaño added, as well as a new initiative called the Excluded Workers Congress that brings together domestic workers, day laborers, taxi drivers, farmworkers, unemployable ex-felons, and other people at the margins of the economy.

To read the Global Unions’ statement click here.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

Why Are Millions of Workers Excluded From Minimum Wages?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Image: Richard NegriThe United States is a country where hard work is supposed to be rewarded. If you agree with that, would you be shocked to learn that there are more than 1.6 million homecare workers who are being denied federal minimum wage and overtime protections under current labor laws? And it is almost 2011!

Chew on this for a minute: More than 1 million hardworking Americans are legally denied basic labor rights most of us take for granted at this point. How did that happen, what can we do to change that?

It all goes back to The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was enacted in 1938 to ensure a minimum standard of living for workers through the provision of minimum wage, overtime pay, and other protections – yet, domestic workers were excluded.

In 1974 the FLSA was amended to include domestic workers, such as housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, people who were described as “companions to the elderly or infirm” were for some reason excluded from the law. They were compared to babysitters…

I love asking the question: If your elderly family member needed homecare to change herself, use the bathroom, get lifted from the chair to the sofa, and then have her meds dispensed at specific times; would you call the babysitter you call for date night with your spouse? Of course you wouldn’t, so why does the government consider these hardworking homecare providers babysitters? Yeah, I don’t know either.

In 2001 the Clinton Department of Labor finds that “significant changes in the home care industry” have occurred and issued a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that would have made important changes to this bizarre exemption. So, that was good news, right?

It was good news until W came to town. The Bush Administration terminated the revision process shortly after taking office. Thanks, W!

Then comes 2007: the US Supreme Court, in a case brought by New York home care attendant Evelyn Coke, upheld the DOL’s authority to define this exception to the FLSA. In short, that means that this crazy archaic law can be reversed beginning with the DOL, today.

Before we get you to take action on this situation, please keep in mind that these million-plus workers are currently living at near poverty level earning a median income of $17,000 a year. Most of these workers, who both love their work and are good at their work, must have two and three jobs to just make ends meet. With this scenario in play, these workers are quick to burn out or leave their trade entirely. This ultimately comes back to the consumer who often finds it difficult to hire and retain high quality home care services.

This article was originally posted on SEIU”s Blog.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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