Kassandra, a housecleaner, recently broke a vase in one of the homes where she works. Though it was an accident, the employer required her to pay for the item and deducted the cost directly from Kassandra’s pay check. This would be illegal if Kassandra worked at Microsoft, McDonald’s, Macy’s, or almost any other type of business. But, as a self-employed domestic worker, Kassandra has no protections from this type of behavior. And because she works in multiple homes every week, she is not guaranteed overtime pay or paid sick time—benefits that most workers today take for granted.
This might seem improbable in the 21st century, but unfortunately it is still the way things are. Why? Labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and federal anti-discrimination laws exclude most domestic workers. The federal minimum wage and overtime law now protects most domestic workers, but still excludes live-in help, babysitters, and others. Experts on labor law call these exclusions a “holdover from slavery.” In practice, they create workplaces ripe for abuse and discrimination.
The result in real life for many domestic workers is an appallingly high level of economic instability, even if they’re working forty hours a week. According to a report from the University of Illinois at Chicago, 23% of domestic workers are unable to save any money for the future; 20% of workers do not always have sufficient food in their own homes; 40% of workers are forced to occasionally pay essential bills late; and 60% of workers spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments.
In short, housecleaners, nannies, and caregivers—the workers that make all other work possible—need help to ensure they are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. That’s why Casa Latina, along with Working Washington, and SEIU 775, launched a campaign to create a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights for the City of Seattle. If passed by the Seattle City Council, the Bill of Rights would:
- Ensure all domestic workers are covered by all our basic workers’ rights laws.
- Guarantee written contracts for all domestic workers.
- Establish an official city commission which includes domestic workers and has the power to set legally-binding industry standards on wages, benefits, and working conditions.
As we develop our strategy to create support for this critical new legislation, please stay tuned! We’ll be calling on supporters like you to contact city representatives, come out to rallies, and write letters of support. This is crucial work—and we won’t be able to do it without you!