On June 16, the Catholic Labor Network joined DC domestic workers and other faith leaders testifying in support of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights bill in hearings before the Labor Committee of the Washington DC City Council. While Catholic Social Teaching holds that all workers have dignity and deserve protection of their rights, historically domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and many home-based health care workers – have been excluded from the protection of our labor laws. Consequently, pressed by the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, a growing number of cities and states have passed legislation to extend workplace protections to those whose workplace is a private home.
The DC Human Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination and from sexual harassment, currently excludes domestic workers from its protection. The proposed legislation, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022, would amend the act 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.
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. Surco, an immigrant from Peru (many domestic workers in DC today are recent immigrants), also testified before the Council. She explained,
It was a great surprise to me, after years of work, to learn that we, domestic workers, are EXCLUDED from the Washington, DC, Bill of Human Rights. We know from history since eras of slavery, that this is an inhuman legacy left for us. It is unbelievable that this beautiful and important work of caring for human lives does not have the protection that it deserves by the laws of Washington, DC. That is why today the echo of our voice asks to be INCLUDED in the Washington, DC, Bill of Human Rights.
Michele Dunne of the Franciscan Action Network, who attended the listening session, also testified in support of the legislation. She noted,
As people of faith, we are called to care about the common good and to respect the dignity of work as well as the rights of workers; both are core principles of Catholic social teaching. We are called to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, particularly when their rights are not respected as they should be. This is certainly the case with the more than 9,000 domestic workers in DC, who have been excluded from the normal protections extended to other workers for far too long.
Matthew 25 warns us that we will be judged by how we have treated the least advantaged of our brothers and sisters. It’s time for DC to join the 10 states that have already passed legislation to extend the protections of our employment law to domestic workers.