Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Pramila Jayapal have unveiled the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, legislation that would finally grant important protections on a federal level to housekeepers, nannies, and more than two million home care workers, the majority of whom are women of color.
The legislation would “include domestic workers in common workplace rights and protections, like paid sick days, meal and rest breaks, and extend anti-workplace discrimination protections,” said a statement from the National Domestic Workers Alliance. It would also “guarantee a minimum wage and overtime pay,” and “address issues that make domestic work so precarious,” like making sure that workers facing termination get at least a month’s notice.
“Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing workforces in our country,” Harris said. “They provide essential care to aging parents, children, homes, and more. 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.”
Many most likely assume domestic workers already have some of these protections, “but they were deliberately excluded from many foundational labor laws made during the New Deal era,” Domestic Workers Alliance leader Ai-jen Poo said. “Southern congressmen refused to support the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act if the bills included equal protections for the predominantly black and Latino farm workers and black domestic workers.”
While advocates have made important gains at the state level—“Domestic Workers' Bills of Rights have been passed in eight states, with New York, Hawaii, and California leading the way,” Refinery29 reports—a space remains at the federal level. A number of domestic workers joined Jayapal, Poo, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards, and Congressman Joaquin Castro to help unveil the legislation.
“Being a nanny takes so much hard work,” said Thaty Oliveira, a Domestic Workers member. “I don’t know many people who can handle caring for five kids under 5 years old! But our work is still considered unskilled. We need to bring our work out of the shadows—so everyone can know what we do and how hard we work.” Oliveira and a number of other domestic workers visited the offices of several legislators, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, to make their case.
Workers received a boost of national attention from the 2018 movie Roma, which won critical acclaim not just for Alfonso Cuarón’s directing and Oscar-nominated actress Yalitiza Aparicio’s acting, but also for portraying the lives of domestic workers with dignity, humanity, and accuracy. “Despite the vital work that we do,” nanny Audrey Mora said at the time, “our lives as domestic workers exist in the margins of society.”
It’s long past time to end that. “Domestic workers have been excluded from basic protections since the New Deal—and domestic workers are the future of work,” said Rep. Jayapal. “The courageous working-class women, women of color and immigrant women who are demanding their rights today are unwilling to be excluded any longer. When domestic workers win, everyone wins: this bill will protect, stabilize and expand this important workforce in one of the fastest growing industries in the country.”