Domestic workers are falling through the gaps in our labor and employment laws. That’s why the Catholic Labor Network recently joined dozens of nannies, housekeepers and home-based health care workers from the District and beyond, visiting DC Council members and urging them to support a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.
Back in the 1930s, when our country passed the National Labor Relations Act (giving workers the right to organize in labor unions) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (setting the federal minimum wage), domestic workers – who were primarily women of color – were excluded from coverage. This exclusion set a pattern, and domestic workers have been excluded from much labor and employment legislation since that time. Consequently, domestic workers have organized in many cities and states to seek remedial legislation.
In Washington DC that legislation takes the form of the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022. The Act would amend the DC Human Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination and sexual harassment, to include domestic workers. It would also extend the protection of Washington DC’s occupational safety and health law to cover domestic workers, and guarantee these workers a written contract of their terms of employment, which should reduce the frequency of wage theft in this sector.
All work has dignity, whether performed in an office, factory or someone’s home. The Catholic Labor Network has marched alongside the domestic workers throughout 2022. In February, the Catholic Labor Network hosted a “listening session” for faith-based activists in the District of Columbia, where domestic worker Antonia Surco related her experience as a domestic worker. In June, the Catholic Labor Network joined the domestic workers and other faith leaders offering testimony in support of the Act during its hearings in the Labor Committee.
The bill has been assigned to three committees for markup before it is eligible for a vote by the Council.