An estimated 2.5 million people work every year in domestic services, helping us take care of our children, cleaning our homes, and caring for our aging parents and grandparents, but without protections or basic workers’ rights. Sexual harassment, racial oppression, and economic exploitation have all resulted from domestic workers’ omission from federal and state protection laws, which is why the struggle for domestic workers’ rights is tied to the history of racial discrimination in our country.
Today, that history is taking a turn for the better. After years of activism and advocacy, the first Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights passed in New York in November 2010. Now, organized labor, civil rights groups, and their legislative allies have joined together in support for a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in California. These important efforts need to be replicated across the country. We cannot stand witness to the daily struggles of domestic workers in silence.
Maids, child care workers, and home health aides lack worker protections as a result of exclusion from key federal legislation: the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 establishes the minimum wage to ensure employer wage and hourly compliance. Unfortunately, FLSA omits child care workers and home health aides. More than 60 percent of child care workers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles reported minimum wage violations according to a 2009 UCLA survey.
Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 aims to assure safe working environments for all laborers but leaves out domestic workers. A San Francisco Department of Public Health report from 2010 stated that domestic workers face health risks due to adverse working conditions. Without OSHA coverage and regulation, domestic workers will continue to face hostile working environments.
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