Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Would Help Provide Dignity, Respect and Workplace Protections to Millions

Debra L. Ness

More than 2 million women — many of them immigrants and women of color mdash; care for our nation’s homes, children and families. Their work allows the people who employ them to work outside of the home. They provide critical support that helps families thrive and they relieve the burdens and stress of family caregivers. Yet despite providing critical services, domestic workers are undervalued, underpaid and, largely because of institutional racism and sexism, are unprotected by our nation’s most basic federal employment laws. In fact, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted in 1938, it excluded large categories of workers in jobs that tended to be performed by women and people of color. Decades later, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows most employees to seek redress from workplace harassment and discrimination, excludes many domestic workers due to its 15-employee threshold. These discriminatory omissions continue today and the result is that domestic workers often face poor and unsafe working conditions and pay so low that they struggle to make ends meet.

Members of Congress now have an opportunity to begin to correct past injustices by supporting and passing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, introduced last week by Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Kamala Harris. The bill, championed by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, would ensure domestic workers receive common workplace rights like paid sick days, meal and rest breaks, and privacy protections. The bill would also establish rights and benefits to address the unique needs of domestic workers, such as fair scheduling protections and workforce development programs that could lead to better wages and opportunities for domestic workers.

Ten jurisdictions have already passed similar pieces of legislation, but a federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is needed to strengthen protections and economic stability for domestic workers and their families no matter where they live or work. It is also imperative to improve working conditions in an industry that is expected to grow in the next decade as our population ages and the health system trends toward more home-based care. Providing better pay and training for domestic workers will be essential to ensuring decent living standards for a significant portion of our workforce, and it will also be essential to the stability and vitality of our nation’s families and economy.

Fighting for domestic workers means correcting the mistakes of the past, and also learning from them. It requires us to end the historic devaluation of work done by women and people of color. It means when we fight for new protections like paid sick days, paid family and medical leave and fair scheduling protections, and policies that address and prevent workplace harassment mdash; we must ensure those policies are inclusive. That is why we support the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would cover all workers, including younger, part-time, lower-wage, contingent and self-employed workers. We are also calling on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act to ensure working people can take job-protected time away from work when they need to recover from a short-term illness or care for a sick family member. Lawmakers should prioritize the BE HEARD Act, which would eliminate Title VII’s employee threshold and allow all working people to benefit from the law’s protections to address and eliminate workplace harassment.

The deck has been stacked against women, people of color and lower-wage workers for too long. It is unacceptable that after more than 80 years, racism and sexism remain embedded in a law meant to protect working people. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is a chance to right this wrong and a build a fairer, more just nation.

Back

Search the Blog