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New Mexico's Domestic Workers May Soon Get Wage Protections

Two-thirds of domestic workers don't have contracts with their employers, according to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. (United Nations University)
Two-thirds of domestic workers don't have contracts with their employers, according to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. (United Nations University)
February 22, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. - The people who make it possible for others to have a job in New Mexico may finally get wage protections if a bill makes it through the state Legislature this session.

In the United States, domestic workers - the housekeepers, nannies and home-health aides working in private homes - often are paid far less than minimum wage without repercussions.

Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said passage of Senate Bill 85 would correct state law adopted in the 1930s that doesn't require employers to pay domestic workers minimum wage or overtime, keep records about their employment or pay them in full or on time.

"Work traditionally done by people of color and by women has been historically just excluded from wage laws, and that problem has been fixed, largely, at the federal level," she said. "But here in New Mexico, we still have this discriminatory exclusion."

The bill passed in the Senate along party lines, with those objecting saying they're reluctant to impose new regulations on employers. Research has shown that undocumented domestic workers, especially in border states, experience far higher rates of economic hardship than U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

In a recent report cited by New Mexico's Voices for Children, the state ranks first nationwide for its percentage of working families that are low-income - almost 45 percent are considered "working poor." Welch said that includes many domestic workers who, by the very nature of their jobs, can be subject to a variety of abuses, including wage theft.

"People are isolated in working in other people's homes, and so a lot of things could be happening that we don't know about," she said, "and these are the people that are doing some of the most important work of caring for our loved ones."

Research by the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2017 showed that less than half of domestic workers are paid enough to adequately support a family.

The text of SB 85 is online at nmlegis.gov.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM