Legislation would protect homecare workers, nannies, others working behind closed doors
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Monday, July 15, 2019

Legislation would protect homecare workers, nannies, others working behind closed doors

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Although in one of fastest growing occupations in our economy, these workers endure systematically low pay, sexual harassment, and a historical lack of protections under federal and state labor laws.

On July 15, Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) announced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, what they described as the "first ever national set of legislation ensuring the rights and protections of millions of domestic workers throughout the country."

Every day, more than 2.5 million domestic workers across the United States provide care to children, aging Americans, people with disabilities, and homes, the bill’s sponsors noted. However, these workers—which include nannies, housecleaners, and homecare workers—endure systematically low pay, sexual harassment, and a historical lack of protections under federal and state labor laws.

Home care is already one of the fastest growing occupations in our entire economy due to the rapidly growing aging population, according to background information about the legislation. By 2026, one of the fastest growing professions in the country is predicted to be care-related jobs.

Uniquely vulnerable workforce. Homecare is work that is often hidden; workplaces are unregistered and unregulated, the bill’s sponsors observed. Studies estimate that domestic workers are paid about $11 per hour, although in practice wages are often lower. Moreover, these workers have little, if any, access to other benefits, such as health care or retirement, that can reduce economic insecurity for working families. These dynamics increase their vulnerability to exploitation and make it almost impossible for domestic workers to take care of their own families. Studies also show that they are often afraid to report abuse for fear of retaliation.

Not "real" work? Sponsors pointed out that 90 percent of domestic workers are women, the majority of whom are women of color and immigrants. "Domestic workers have faced a long history of exclusion from basic labor protections, rooted in the legacy of slavery," according to the bill’s background information. "Our society’s perception of care work, traditionally done by women of color, is that it is not ‘real’ work. Domestic workers were specifically excluded from federal labor protections like minimum wage, safety and health laws and the right to organize. Many other laws such as antidiscrimination and harassment laws exclude domestic workers by default, due to the non-traditional nature of the workforce."

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. The bill’s sponsored underscored that the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act would:

  • Include domestic workers in common workplace rights and protections like paid overtime, safe and healthy working conditions, and freedom from workplace harassment and discrimination;
  • Create new rights and protections that address the unique challenges of domestic work such as written contracts, affordable healthcare and retirement benefits, fair scheduling, support for survivors of sexual harassment, and grants for workforce training; and
  • Ensure that rights aren’t just on paper, but that they can be enforced and implemented through "know-your-rights" information, mechanisms to prevent retaliation, a confidential hotline and emergency access tool to address harassment, affordability for Medicaid consumers, and a worker and employer-led federal taskforce.

Key aspects of the legislation are further fleshed out in a bill summary.

"Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing workforces in our country," Senator Harris said in a press release. "They provide essential care and support to aging parents, people with disabilities, children, and homes. However, our nation’s domestic workers have not been afforded the same rights and benefits as nearly every other worker, and it’s time we change that. I am proud to partner with Congresswoman Jayapal to introduce the first ever Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, which ensures domestic workers—many of whom are women or people of color—have the dignity and respect they deserve."

News: FederalLegislation FedTracker LaborEmployment Discrimination SexualHarassment WageHour Overtime Retaliation

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