Senate and Assembly Pass Historic Bill To Protect Domestic Workers

July 01, 2010

The New York Legislature passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, S2311E (Savino) / A1470B (Wright), making New York the first state in the nation to provide new standards of worker protections for more than 200,000 employees in an industry which has gone unregulated for decades.
This historic legislation guarantees protection from discrimination, one day of rest each week, overtime pay, and other basic labor protections long denied to nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers employed in private homes.
The legislation passed 35-26 in the Senate and 90-38 in the Assembly.
Supporters of the bill have worked tirelessly for the past six years to bring the landmark legislation to this point. In June 2009, the Assembly passed similar legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Keith Wright. For the past several weeks, the two houses worked to reconcile the different versions and have now come to an agreement. Once signed into law by the Governor, the bill will provide a national model for other states seeking to improve the conditions of domestic labor.
 "For far too long domestic workers have labored tirelessly without the labor protections available to almost every other group of workers throughout New York State. They have been subject to abuse, long hours without respite, dangerous working conditions, and they have had nowhere to turn for justice. This law will change that equation. This is the first piece of legislation of it's kind in the Nation and for the last six years I have been working hard to ensure that New York State continues to support the progressive ideals which allowed us to set the original standard for labor protections in America. I applaud the tenacity of all of the domestic workers who lobbied, advocated and rallied for this legislation for many, many years and helped our State reach this historic point. I have been proud to stand alongside them and our tremendously effective Senate sponsor, Senator Diane Savino, throughout this lengthy struggle," said Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem.
“Every now and then the New York State Legislature gets to make history and today is that day.  We have led the way in worker protections time and time again, establishing child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and workplace protections in sweatshops, long before the federal government did.  In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former New York State Senator himself, signed the National Labor Relations Act, sweeping legislation that gave us the basic labor protections that we all enjoy, but which unfortunately excluded domestic workers. Since then they have toiled without any rights whatsoever.  That changes now.  This law will dramatically improve the daily lives of the 200,000 women and men of this ‘invisible workforce’.  Most importantly, it will send the clear message that domestic workers, who provide the crucial services that keep this state running, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  I commend my colleague in the Assembly, Keith Wright, who has been fighting for this bill for over six years, and without whom this victory would not be possible,” said Senator Diane J. Savino (D-Brooklyn/Staten Island).
Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said, "Domestic workers are a vital contributor, helping fuel New York's economy, but for too long they have been denied basic protections that should rightfully be theirs. New York is once again taking its place as a national leader in protecting workers' rights, ensuring fair labor standards are finally afforded to domestic workers. I applaud the efforts of Senator Diane Savino for her tireless pursuit of justice."
Some highlights of the provisions in this legislation include:

  • Grant time and a half overtime pay if a domestic employee works over 40 hours per week, or 44 hours if the employee lives in the employer’s home;
  • Exclude babysitters, family members of employers and people who provide companionship services from the definition of a domestic worker;
  • Provide that domestic workers may choose a day of rest each week;
  • Grants domestic workers three additional days of rest each year, once he or she has worked for the same employer for one year;
  • Require domestic workers receive minimum wage and protection under the disability law;
  • Provide that the Department of Labor (DOL) establish a working group and report to the Governor and Legislature by November 1st, 2010 on the working conditions of domestic workers, the feasibility of attaining benefits commensurate with other workers, and the possibility of unionization.

Domestic Workers, who are excluded from federal labor laws, often face exploitation and abuse in the workplace. A study conducted by Domestic Workers United, a non-profit organization of domestic workers and advocates, found that 33 percent of domestic workers reported verbal or physical abuse at the hands of their employers, while another 67 percent reported sometimes or never receiving overtime pay.
"By extending vital, basic rights to domestic workers, we demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to a safe and equitable work environment. I urge Governor Paterson to sign this legislation into law immediately and put an end to these discriminatory and unjust labor practices,” said State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Jeffrey D. Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester).
Senator Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) said, “It is a simple matter of justice to guarantee that nannies, housekeepers and caregivers have the same protections as every other worker under the law. I applaud Senator Savino for her leadership in the fight to ensure basic worker protections for the people who don’t have a voice to speak out against exploitation and abuse. It’s time to level the playing field and give domestic workers the bill of rights they deserve.”
Senator Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) said, "Domestic workers are among the least protected workers in New York and it is time for that to change. This bill of rights will ensure that domestic workers have at least one day off per week and work a reasonable number of hours per day. Often, domestic workers are forced to work long hours, seven days a week, for very little pay, or fear losing their jobs. This legislation will put an end to such practices and provides domestic workers a level of protection they are not currently afforded."
Senator Jose M. Serrano (D-Bronx/Manhattan) said, “Nannies and other household workers, who number over 200,000, play a huge role in supporting families and our economy. However, during this hard economic time, many are facing lay-offs without severance and suffering from unjust wage cuts. These vulnerable workers deserve basic labor standards and I applaud Senator Savino for her ongoing effort to pass the Domestic Workers bill of rights and protect domestic workers.”
Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany) said, "Domestic workers deserve the same basic protections afforded to workers in nearly every other field under the National Labor Relations Act. New York has made history by being the first state in the nation to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. It is my hope that soon, other states will follow in our footsteps."
Priscilla Gonzalez, Director of Domestic Workers United, said, "The Bill of Rights validates the important work that domestic workers have always done to support families and homes throughout New York State. This is a huge step in the director of beginning to reverse seventy-five years of exclusion under the law. Justice has been achieved for these workers who make all other work possible."
Barbara Young, a nanny in Manhattan, said, “We care for our employers’ children, elderly parents, and homes – the most important elements of a person’s life – so we take great pride and care in our work. Still, we are not respected or seen as real workers that deserve the same rights as everyone else. The time has finally come for us to get the recognition we deserve."
Ai-Jen Poo, the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said, "This is a breakthrough victory for 2.5 million domestic workers around the country who deserve rights, respect, and recognition. We expect many states to follow, with California leading the way. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is also a beacon of hope for all working people in these uncertain times-- victories are possible, if we organize. And domestic workers are organizing!"
Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said,“For too long, domestic workers have been excluded from basic labor protections, a legacy leftover from the Jim Crow era. Domestic workers take care of New York’s children, our sick, and our aging parents and grandparents. They keep New York going. We applaud the State Legislature for standing up for equal protections for all of New York’s workers and passing this landmark legislation.”
Donna Schneiderman, an employer of a domestic worker and member of the Employers for Justice Network of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, said, “This is an important opportunity for employers of domestic workers to stand alongside those who make a difference in our lives and to show our commitment to labor justice in our homes.”
This bill now awaits action from the Governor.