A Victory for Domestic Workers


Congrats to Domestic Workers United for winning a seven year battle to have a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” enacted in New York State. Yesterday, New York Governor David Paterson signed a bill that will guarantee domestic workers such as nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers of the elderly one day of rest per week and after a year of employment, a minimum of three paid days off.  It also includes protection against sexual harassment and other types of discrimination, and is supposed to strengthen current laws for live-in domestic workers.

One day a week off and 3 paid days off after a year of working may not sound like much but it’s a victory for the over 200,000 domestic workers in New York who have had no recourse against their employers. Current laws only protected workplaces that had four or more employees. I have seen the work of Domestic Workers United for many years, advocating for their rights in various venues and platforms throughout the city, so it’s affirming to see the fruits of their labor around this issue.

However, let’s be real, this is not a solution but rather a major stepping stone for domestic workers. According to WNYC, this bill is a “watered down version of prior bills passed by the state legislature that included paid sick days, vacation days and a requirement that workers be given two weeks notice before being let go.” I’ve also read via Colorlines that this bill does not support a union for domestic workers, particularly the idea of collective bargaining. This is problematic if it comes to a point where these laws have to be enforced in practice, not just as words or ideas.

Even though, there is still more to be done to protect the rights of the mostly female domestic workforce, this is a huge step and may set a precedent around the country, since this is the first bill of it’s kind in the U.S. The bill will be active in 90 days so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Domestic workers in California are also advocating for their own bill of rights but with more provisions such as paid sick and vacation days.

It’s pretty appalling when you think about the fact that domestic workers who are primarily women, and often women of color and/or immigrant women, have to fight for basic rights such as a day off. These women keep our country ticking, raising families and keeping things organized and tidy…tasks that are essential but are considered brunt work by women (and men) of a “higher” socio-economic status.

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