Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘National Domestic Workers Alliance’

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.

Social Forum Focuses on Workers’ Issues

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Image: James ParksWorkers’ issues were the focus of  five days of  marches, rallies and workshops at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, which ended over the weekend. Grassroots activists and progressives from across the country came together to build new alliances, create new strategies and put new energy into the movement to turn around the American economy.

Writing in Workday Minnesota, Howard Kling quotes a UAW leader who says the forum was an opportunity for labor to build relationships with other movements and encourage a “strong, fight-back attitude toward the intense corporate agenda that is blocking change on health care, labor rights, fair trade policies and a host of issues that we believe in.”

Throughout the forum, union members were hard at work making sure working peoples’ voices were heard. In a brainstorming session at the start of the forum, the hundreds of union members attending the five-day event listed the changes most needed to improve conditions for workers in the United States. The list included passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, a public blacklist of employers who mistreat workers, enforcement of existing labor laws, a federal jobs bill and the criminalizing of labor law violations.

On the first full day of the forum, newly elected UAW President Bob King joined Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams; Al Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 25; and Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 president, in leading a march and rally through the streets of Detroit. Chanting “Full and Fair Employment Now!” and “Money for Jobs, Not for Banks!” participants demanded Congress address the pressing jobs emergency.

One of the forum highlights was a joint meeting of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) to develop strategies to better protect the rights of some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

Domestic workers often are afraid to join unions for fear of losing their jobs. There is little job security and some have no employer-provided health care, and most toil in isolation, said Ai-Jen Poo, director of NDWA.

They are completely vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Some have good employers but some work in homes where they earn 50 cents an hour and work around the clock.

At the global and local levels, officials are beginning to recognize the need to protect domestic workers. Earlier this month, the New York State Senate passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, guaranteeing better working conditions for domestic workers. In California, a Bill of Rights resolution for domestic employees has been introduced in the state legislature.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) this month took a giant step forward in the fight to create workplace justice for the millions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers around the world. At its International Labor Conference the ILO began the process to establish a first-ever international standard (“convention”) to protect the rights of domestic workers.

Nadia Marin-Molina with the NDLON said the most common problem for day laborers is wage theft.

The employer will say, “We’ll pay you tomorrow,” and then the employer never  shows up. Sometimes we have to go to court to get their money.

NDLON and Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) are working to stop wage theft among mostly immigrant low-wage workers. The nation’s economy suffers when millions of workers are denied their just pay, IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo said in a workshop on faith and labor. It is also a moral issue, she added, since every major faith group has some variation of the commandment that “Thou shalt not steal.”

On June 25, faith activists at the forum led a protest against JPMorgan Chase & Co., calling on the Wall Street financial institution to declare a moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan and sever its ties with R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco giant refuses to meet with the Farm Labor Organization Committee (FLOC) to discuss the slave-labor working conditions of contract growers in North Carolina.

Throughout the week, workers and union staff took the lead in discussions on building communities by rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and on the fights for justice for domestic workers, Immokalee farm workers, immigrant workers and sweatshop workers. Activists talked about strategies for gaining full employment in a new economy, changing our trade policies and creating safe workplaces.

The forum followed the Great Labor Arts Exchange, which was held in Detroit, the first time in three decades that it was produced on the road.

This article was first published by 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 saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. 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.

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