Up to 300,000 domestic workers in New York City have now been extended vital workplace protections previously denied to them following Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature last week. The legislation, first introduced by Democratic council member Debi Rose three years ago, “will prohibit discrimination, loss of wages, wrongful termination and ensure certain accommodations at the workplace,” Spectrum News reported. Those protections will be assured regardless of immigration status.
That report said one worker now going to their job sites with protections she deserves is Jacqui Orie. She’s been a domestic worker for two decades now. “These are the people that hold families together, the domestic workers, the amazing nannies and house cleaners who make all other work possible, they take care of the economy,” she told Spectrum News in July. She said that when the New York City Council passed the legislation, “I actually teared up because we’ve been working so hard for this.”
“Currently, employment protections do not apply to employers with fewer than four workers,” which oftentimes shuts out domestic workers, Spectrum News said. “Domestic work is by nature intimate,” National Domestic Workers Alliance said, oftentimes a one-on-one interaction between one employer and one employee. “Excluded from protections, they often work without benefits or any enforcement mechanism in the event of mistreatment,” Spectrum News continued.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this. “During the height of the pandemic there were many domestic workers who did not get time off, who did not get to stay home, did not get to shelter in place,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Spectrum News. Because they work in private homes, domestic workers were also among the first to lose work at the start of the pandemic. “We want to make sure they have the full protection of the law moving forward,” Johnson continued.
National Domestic Workers Alliance was among the advocates championing the legislation. Two of them even approached the mayor during one of his walks to urge him to extend relief to domestic workers, he said in remarks before signing the bill last week.
“I especially want to thank a small group of women who came up to Chirlane and I one day last year, we were walking in Sunset Park,” the mayor said, spotting and acknowledging them in the audience. “And these women spoke with passion and eloquence. Now to be clear Chirlane and I were just taking a walk, okay? We were not on duty. But when righteous people come up to you and say, we need you to hear something.
“We stopped and listened,” he continued. “We listened with a whole heart. And what we heard was women who had worked so hard to do the right thing and did not feel protected. And they said, we need this legislation. And honestly, I had not heard a lot about it before then. They educated me. So, I want to give special credit to them, special thank you.” Rose also acknowledged the advocacy of domestic workers, saying “[i]t was your tenacity that got us here,” Staten Island Advance reported.
The legislation comes as recent data has shown that domestic workers continue to struggle with joblessness and housing insecurity more than a year into the pandemic. The survey, conducted by La Alianza for National Domestic Workers Alliance Labs, reached Spanish-speaking domestic workers over the course of July and found that nearly 30% of respondents reported a week with zero hours worked that month. That number increased compared to findings from May and June. Domestic Workers Alliance has also worked with legislators including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to reintroduce the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
“The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would close the loopholes that exclude domestic workers from federal labor and civil rights laws and it would create critical new benefits and protections for domestic workers—including requiring employers to provide a written agreement about pay, duties, schedules, breaks, and time-off policies—giving these workers stability and respect,” she said in July. “I am honored to introduce this bill with Senator Luján and Congresswoman Jayapal and I look forward to working with them to pass it and provide the federal protections these vulnerable workers need.”
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