Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), introduced the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. If enacted, the legislation would extend common workplace rights to the 2.2 million domestic workers in the United States while at the same time creating new protections and stronger ways of enforcing them. The legislation is supported by President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
As the U.S. recovers from the pandemic, our country has continued to witness the precarious conditions experienced by domestic workers in their daily lives. Severe financial insecurity and the lack of workplace benefits or protections are all too common in this line of work. Furthermore, these challenges are compounded by the systemic racism that has defined attitudes towards domestic work since the end of slavery. The National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will help correct historical injustices, address the modern needs of domestic workers, and create a standard that provides the respect, dignity, and recognition that all domestic workers deserve.
“Domestic workers, who are often women of color and immigrants, are not valued for the vital role they play in our economy and in our lives,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Domestic workers have often been overlooked in the fight for workers’ rights, despite the fact that they normally work in homes away from any type of oversight, and often end up working around the clock, seven days a week for low wages that leave them struggling to make ends meet. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would close the loopholes that exclude domestic workers from federal labor and civil rights laws and it would create critical new benefits and protections for domestic workers – including requiring employers to provide a written agreement about pay, duties, schedules, breaks, and time-off policies – giving these workers stability and respect. I am honored to introduce this bill with Senator Luján and Congresswoman Jayapal and I look forward to working with them to pass it and provide the federal protections these vulnerable workers need.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic only highlights the cruel gaps in our labor laws as millions of courageous domestic workers — who are disproportionately working-class women, women of color, and immigrant women — have risked their own health and the health of their families to keep America afloat. They are being called essential but treated as expendable,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “Supported by Vice President Harris and President Biden, our landmark legislation reverses domestic workers’ exclusion from the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide these heroes with the rights and protections that nearly all other workers enjoy while ensuring they finally receive the dignity, respect, and justice they deserve.”
“To meet the rising demand for elder care in New Mexico, it’s crucial that the United States leverage investments to bolster the homecare workforce to ensure that all Americans can age with dignity. The National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will help meet this need by strengthening labor protections and ensuring that domestic workers are treated with respect and dignity,” said Senator Luján. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation to help Americans recover and rebuild from the pandemic and improve worker protections.”
Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing workforces in the nation, yet these nannies, house cleaners and home care workers have historically been excluded from worker protections and, as a result, often have no benefits, little protections, and little recourse or enforcement mechanism. A 2021 National Domestic Workers Alliance survey of domestic workers also reported:
- Only 16% of domestic workers have a written agreement with their employer.
- Over one-third of domestic workers do not get meal and rest breaks and of those that do, only 34% of those who get meal and rest breaks are paid for those breaks.
- 81% of domestic workers receive no pay if their employer cancels on them with less than three days’ notice, and 76% receive no pay if their employer cancels on them after they show up for work.
- 23% of domestic workers do not feel safe at work.
If passed, the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will do the following, amongst other provisions:
- Ensure domestic workers have paid sick leave to take care of themselves or their families.
- Extend civil rights protections, including against workplace harassment, to domestic workers.
- Afford domestic workers the right to meal and rest breaks
- Establish written agreements to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities.
- Protect against losing pay due to last minute cancellations.
The National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was originally introduced in 2019 by then-Senator Harris and Congresswoman Jayapal. For the 2021 introduction, the bill has been updated to simplify and clarify the written agreement, fair scheduling, and standards board and notice of rights provisions, clarify how hiring entities must provide schedules and schedule changes, and include lessons learned from the pandemic.
“The pandemic demonstrated how essential care work is to all of us,” National Domestic Workers Alliance Executive Director Ai-jen Poo said. “It also revealed how, without rights or protections, care jobs can be precarious and unsafe. As our country is on the path to economic recovery, this is a critical and urgent time to ensure that all domestic workers have the protections they deserve.”
As of July 2021, ten states have passed bills of rights for domestic workers: New York, Illinois, Oregon, California, Nevada, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Virginia. In addition, the cities of Seattle and Philadelphia both passed their own bill of rights. Pending bills of rights have been introduced in New Jersey and will be introduced in Washington, DC and San Francisco.
In addition to Senators Gillibrand and Lujan, the legislation is co-sponsored in the Senate by senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Richard Durbin (D-IL).