DC Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights Moves Toward Passage

DC Council votes unanimously for new law; second vote pending

The Washington DC Office of Human Rights is charged with preventing discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. But did you know that it has no power to protect domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers and others who work in the home?

That may be about to change. Although few workers are more isolated and in need of protection than domestic workers, many of our nation’s laws drafted to protect workers from exploitation and abuse have excluded them from coverage. But domestic workers have been organizing for years to change this, and in DC they are on the brink of success.

On Tuesday the DC Council voted unanimously in favor of the DC Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act. The Act would extend the DC Human Rights law to cover domestic workers; it would provide for their occupational health and safety; and it would also require employers of domestic help to prepare and sign a written agreement setting out terms and conditions of employment.

The Catholic Labor Network has been accompanying DC’s domestic workers on their campaign for justice for more than a year, starting with a “listening session” in which Catholic activists heard testimony from area domestic worker Antonia Surco. Last week CLN joined domestic worker advocates in a final round of visits with Councilmembers in support of the bill.

Passage of the Act requires a second Council vote on Dec. 20.