More than 200 domestic workers, including nannies, companions for the elderly and housekeepers, gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to push for a new law that would give them higher wages, sick days and paid vacations.
The legislation is called the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and would provide labor protections for more than 200,000 domestic workers in New York state.
“Our mission is to put an end to a long history of exploitation in the domestic industry. We have no legal protections,” said Carolyn de Leon, who had been a nanny before she became an activist with Domestic Workers United.
Ai-jen Poo, the founder of Domestic Workers United, which is based in the Bronx, said that the domestic workers are important for the state’s economy. “The bill is about equality,” he said. “It seeks to reverse the legacy of injustice and exclusion that domestic workers have historically faced.”
Supporters of the bill traveled by bus from Manhattan early Tuesday morning as part of their lobbying campaign and met with lawmakers and held a rally and a march to build support for the law.
Debra Cole, a nanny from Trinidad, said she wants a livable wage, health insurance and paid sick days. “We want to set a standard for our industry. We are the invisible work force that one no one wants to see.”
The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, a Manhattan Democrat and the grandson of domestic workers. It has more than a dozen sponsors in the state Assembly and on Tuesday Wright urged the domestic workers to keep fighting for passage of the bill.
The bill’s supporters are looking for a sponsor in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
There are some concerns that the bill will stall because it is targeted for a specific group who would receive a higher minimum wage than the statewide minimum wage.
But Cole and de Leon argue that they have been excluded from many of the traditional protections given by labor law.
“Domestic workers get no vacation, no health insurance. Many have been working seven to 10 years and at any point they can lose their job if they ask for sick days or get pregnant,” said de Leon, originally from the Philippines.
New York is a global city and domestic workers provide a service industry that makes it possible for the work force to function, she said.
The main parts of the bill are:
u Set a minimum wage, phased in from $12 per hour to $14 per hour by 2010.
u Have employers provide health care coverage or a wage supplements;
u Give one day off per seven-day calendar week and have paid sick days, vacations and holidays.
The bill would also ensure advance notice of termination and severance pay in accordance with numbers of years worked.
The New York State AFL-CIO has said the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is the only way to ensure fairness for domestic workers.
The domestic work industry stands out as featuring some of the most unregulated workplaces because of how wages and working conditions are negotiated employer by employer, according to Annette Bernhardt, co-director of the National Employment Law Project
She said the work force is mostly minority women facing strong labor market discrimination and segmentation. The combined impact is that violations of employment and labor laws are routine and even when laws are not formally being violated, the lives of domestic workers can be extremely difficult, she said.
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