It’s hard to believe that it has taken this long, but the first ever extensive domestic workers’ rights measure was signed into law yesterday by New York Governor David Paterson.
The measure bestows basic rights to all New York domestic workers—people employed as nannies, housekeepers and at-home caretakers. The law gives domestics one whole day off a week, three paid days off a year after a year of employment, and ensures that they receive minimum wage, as well as overtime pay. The law also extends state law protections against sexual harassment and discrimination.
Domestic slavery happens in the U.S., in part, because our laws don’t adequately protect this sector of the labor force. The 1935 passage of the National Labor Relations Act under President Roosevelt gave millions of workers in America basic workers rights—including the right to collective bargaining. But, as Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter write in The Slave Next Door, these rights were not extended to domestic workers and farm laborers, “largely because of pressure from southern congressman.” To this day, domestic workers and farm laborers “are still denied the rights enjoyed by all other workers.”
With the passage of the domestic workers Bill of Rights yesterday, there is now one US state that has extended basic rights to domestic workers—one modest measure of protection against worker abuse and possible enslavement.
When Governor Paterson signed the measure yesterday, he remarked, “I wonder if President Roosevelt ever dreamed that it would take until 2010, 75 years until after he died, for there to be action taken by even one state on this issue,” adding, “We have totally disrespected [domestic workers] until today.”
>> Watch Dreams Die Hard, a Free the Slaves produced documentary about slavery in the US—including first person stories of domestic servitude.