Labor Day: Domestic Workers Are People Too!

Some time ago on this site Eco.Soul.Intellectual highlighted the plight of often invisible Caribbean nannies here in the United States. In particular, the piece touched on the many female undocumented workers charged with the responsibility of raising future generations of Americans.

Much like the stereotypical southern black “mammy” archtype we all know too well and “love”, their lives and or livelihood is often unappreciated; and in many cases, for them, their subservience is a way of life having to exist in the shadows as all undocumented workers in this country do.

In many cases, these are workers who are voiceless, marginalized, and are often taken advantage of by their employers. Working long slave-like hours tirelessly as they care for the children and households of well-to-do upper middle class and wealthy families, they rarely garner the respect of the average American worker.

While supplying a service that is premium in a culture where class-ism is the norm, these are women often held hostage. Often, domestic workers are away from their own homes all week, and earn very little.

Being undocumented, employers often exploit the services and also abuse domestic workers with the threat if contacting federal immigration agencies; many of these women live and work for years under these conditions.

Today being Labor Day here in the United States, I felt the need to take the time to spotlight a recent passing and signing of landmark legislation which seeks to improve the working conditions of domestic workers in the state of New York.

These are basic rights that have otherwise been ignored, and taken for granted by employers of domestic workers. The New York Domestic Worker Bill of Rights signed by governor Paterson, sadly establishes a legitimacy to the many women who work as domestic workers and nannies:
The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (A01470, S2311A) amends New York State labor law to guarantee basic work standards and protections: time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours per week; one day off per 7-day calendar week; a limited number of paid vacation days, holidays, and sick days; protection from employment discrimination; and advance notice of termination..  The bill provides a means of enforcing these standards in court. 

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights applies to all domestic workers in New York State.

Domestic workers are the bedrock of a functioning society, yet they are a workforce in crisis. 

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights takes on a new urgency in the wake of the current financial crisis.  Among New York’s least protected workers, domestic workers are among the first and hardest hit by any economic downturn.  In these times, domestic workers are even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Being a son of the Caribbean, and having heard countless tales from women who in most cases are without many options when they first migrate to this the vast land of opportunity. Let me just say that this legislation, like any law that seeks to provide an equal footing by recognizing basic human rights, is a major victory for society at large. Check out the following clip to understand: