About Time: New York's Domestic Workers May Finally Get Rights on the Job

 

Is scrubbing somebody else's floor "work"? How about staying up all night - every night - with another person's colicky baby? Or helping their elderly mother shower and use the bathroom? The reality is, domestic workers like nannies, caregivers and housekeepers do some of the hardest and most necessary work around. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are able to do their own jobs and keep their families functioning only because they rely on the labor of nannies and caregivers, yet these domestic employees are denied the basic workplace protections most other workers are guaranteed. That may finally change when the New York State Senate finally votes on the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (pdf) next week.


The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, sponsored by State Senator Diane Savino, guarantees basic workplace protections like overtime pay, the chance to take at least a day off every week, coverage under employment discrimination laws, advance notice if a domestic employee is about to be fired, and minimal paid sick time and vacation. It would apply to 200,000 domestic workers in New York currently subject to the whims of their employers when it comes to these fundamental rights. Many employers of domestic workers are excellent bosses who form warm personal relationships with their employees, but the personal stories of domestic workers collected by advocacy organization Domestic Workers United highlight the danger of making essential workplace standards contingent on the good will of employers.


The effort to overcome these barriers and pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights illustrates everything that is most frustrating - and most promising - about the New York State legislature. As Crain's New York reports, "there is no organized opposition to the bill." Yet the effort to enact it has taken years - becoming derailed most recently by last year's coup in the State Senate. But for all Albany's dysfunction, New York may yet be the first state in the nation to enact this precedent-setting labor reform: 72 years late, yet ahead of the pack.


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