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Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Coming to Congress Next Year

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., says domestic work makes other work possible. (U.S. House of Representatives)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., says domestic work makes other work possible. (U.S. House of Representatives)
December 10, 2018

SEATTLE – A National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will be introduced in Congress next year.

Among its sponsors is Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Washington state Democrat.

The bill would provide a wide range of protections for domestic workers, including labor protections and safeguards from workplace harassment.

It also would establish fair practices for scheduling, rest breaks and paid sick days.

Jayapal says the bill addresses gender, social and economic justice for a workforce that is largely made up of women of color and immigrants making poverty-level wages.

She maintains it will attract more people to domestic work and also improve the quality of their work.

"Domestic workers are looking after the people who are most precious to us in our lives, right?” Jayapal states. “Our parents, our seniors, our kids.

“And we need to make sure that they are paid appropriately, and that they have appropriate protections so that they can be more effective at doing their jobs."

Quoting the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jayapal calls this profession "the work that makes all other work possible."

She adds a provision requiring written agreements between employers and workers is critically needed.

Eight states have enacted domestic workers' protections, and this year, Seattle became the first U.S. city to do so.

Sterling Harders, president of the Service Employees International Union 775, which represents long-term care workers in Washington state and Montana. She says domestic work of all types is under-appreciated.

It was left out of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, and workers generally aren't protected under the Civil Rights Act, which excludes businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

Harders says it's time to dignify this profession.

"These folks are really the backbone of society, and doing work that is critical to the successful functioning of our society,” she states. “And yet for years, they've been disregarded, they've been cut out of basic protections and they've really been shoved to the sidelines."

Harders notes seven in 10 Washingtonians will need care before the end of their lives, and with a wave of Baby Boomers aging, the need for home-based care is growing rapidly.

But a lack of basic on-the-job protections could make it hard to fill that need.

Harders adds the nature of these jobs often means people working in isolation, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.

"Issues of sexual harassment and issues with safety on the job are just more the rule than the exception,” she points out. “And so, I feel like this industry in particular – it's just critically important that we put basic protections in place."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA