A New Season for Domestic Workers

As summer holidays end and we celebrate Labor Day, it’s a good time to remember the workers who care for the things we value most in life: our children, homes, parents, and neighbors. Although their contributions often go unnoticed, domestic workers make it possible for seniors and people with disabilities to live with dignity in their own homes, for busy families to provide safe, reliable care for their children, and for all of us to be more productive.

An estimated 2.5 million domestic workers--including housekeepers, nannies, and personal aides--are hard at work in the United States. As the population ages and more parents of young children work outside of the home, these are among the fastest growing jobs in the economy. Domestic workers play an essential role in the workforce, providing services that free the rest of us to work outside of the home.

Yet, domestic workers remain some of the least protected and most exploited workers in the U.S. Domestic workers are excluded from most worker protections that ensure a fair wage, a safe work environment, and freedom from abuse and exploitation. Consequently, many domestic workers are paid below minimum wage, receive no benefits or overtime pay, have no sick leave, work beyond scheduled hours, are denied meal and rest breaks, and suffer physical and verbal abuse with no possible recourse. The vast majority of domestic workers are women working alone and behind closed doors, making them particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, low pay, and other unfavorable working conditions.

In Illinois, we have an opportunity to right this historic wrong. The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, HB 1288, would ensure domestic workers in Illinois have the right to a minimum wage, to be paid for all work hours, to a day of rest, and to protection from sexual harassment. This important legislation has passed the Illinois House and is expected to come before the Senate on Wednesday, September 9. If you are an Illinois resident, please take action to support HB 1288 by contacting your state senator. Ask them to vote yes on HB 1288.

Domestic workers are securing worker protections in other states, too. New York, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Hawaii have passed similar legislation to protect domestic workers in recent years, and momentum is building around legislative efforts in many other states, including Connecticut and Colorado.

Labor Day is the traditional end of summer. As the season changes, and most of us head back to school and to work, let’s remember the domestic workers who care for our homes and family members. It’s time to ensure that domestic workers enjoy the same workplace protections that the rest of us enjoy.

 

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