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“Slavery” Case Prompts Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

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April 29, 2009

Albany, NY — A first-of-its-kind measure to protect domestic workers is up for consideration in New York. State lawmakers have heard from nannies, housekeepers and caregivers, who say the measure is needed to protect them from "slave-like" conditions. That might sound like overstatement - were it not for the Long Island couple that was recently found guilty of forced labor charges in the abuse of two Indonesian women.

That case revealed to the public that, in fact, domestic workers are not protected on the job regarding time off, holidays or severance pay. Legislators are now considering legislation to fix that, and domestic workers as well as workers' rights advocates converged on Albany Tuesday to promote the bill they say will protect domestic workers from abusive working conditions.

Charlene Obernauer with Long Island Jobs with Justice suggests just taking a look at case of the two Indonesian women to see why these workers need legal protection.

"They had no ability to leave where they were working, there were a bunch of examples of actual physical abuse; in a sense this bill is a legislative response to actions like that."

Opponents of the legislation argue that many domestic workers are not in the U.S. legally, so they don't deserve legal protections. Obernauer says that sometimes domestic workers fall through the cracks because of an imperfect immigration system, but all workers in the United States deserve legal protections.

She says that, on a hot April day in New York, it may seem early to be thinking about Christmas, but the bill would give domestic workers the same rights as others in New York when it comes to legal holidays such as Christmas, as well as other protections.

"Giving severance pay to workers, giving workers paid overtime if they work over 40 hours a week, giving workers the right to holidays, the right to sick days, and then to supplement the health care if they are not getting a health care package."

The measure would also provide for cost-of-living increases for domestic workers in New York. The Senate Bill is 2311 and in the Assembly the Bill number is 1470. It has already passed through the Senate labor committee.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY