Breakthrough for Domestic Workers

Labor Organizing Organizing

034_0Toronto A couple of weeks ago at the Labor Notes conference, I commented on the power of the presentation by the director of the Domestic Workers Union in New York State. My remarks were an understatement! The New York State Senate has finally passed a bill giving long disregarded and exempted domestic workers some real protections, and the likelihood now appears good that after many years of trying, the organization and its allies will succeed in winning the first legislative set of entitlements for the 200,000 domestic workers in that state and a beacon of hope for others throughout the country.

The bill would provide some paid holidays and sick days, some vacation, and a full two-week notice before termination. Now there is nada. This is huge!

The Times quoted the organization at the back end of a piece the other day:

We were literally there when the Senate came to a screeching halt,” said Priscilla Gonzalez, director of Domestic Workers United. Ms. Gonzalez started her group, which now has 3,000 members, after seeing what her mother went through as a nanny and housecleaner.

Ms. Alvarez, the nanny, said she came to the United States from Bolivia when she was 8. Starting when she was 20, she worked in a variety of unappealing nanny jobs, including one for a family that refused to give her time off to take her own daughter to a hospital after an injury.

She said her current employer, a wealthy family with one child, already gave her a better package than what would be guaranteed in the Senate bill. But sitting among nannies at a Central Park playground, she said the lack of legal standard left many nannies less fortunate.

I am one of the lucky ones,” she said.

These are reforms past due since the Fair Labor Standards Act federally has always with little excuse or conscience exempted both farm workers and domestic workers because of the power of their lobby: farm organizations and those rich enough to have nannies and maids.

When we bring change this close to the home and the personal space of the family, it is a huge and permanent victory.

The next fights will be expansion and enforcement, since the leverage over undocumented workers will still be huge.