Few workers are at greater risk of exploitation than domestic workers. Nannies, au pairs, house cleaners, home health aides – all too often these workers work alone under the supervision of their employer, and under informal and precarious work arrangements. Sexual harassment and wage theft are frequent occurrences. To make matters worse, they have historically been excluded from coverage under labor and employment laws.
That may be about to change in Washington DC. On Tuesday, March 15, DC Councilmember Elissa Silverman announced release of the DC Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act. The Act would extend the DC Human Rights law, which protects against discrimination and sexual harassment, to cover Domestic Workers; it would also require employers of domestic help to sign a written agreement setting out terms and conditions of employment. Already nine of the thirteen councilmembers have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation.
The announcement came at a press conference organized by the DC Chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The press heard not just from Councilmember Silverman and some of her co-sponsors, but also from several area domestic workers as well as supportive faith leaders (notably Michele Dunne of the Franciscan Action Network).
The Catholic Labor Network has been organizing support in the Catholic community for this much-needed legislation, including hosting a “listening session” for Catholic and other faith-based activists with domestic worker Antonia Surco. The listening session is available for viewing on the Catholic Labor Network YouTube Channel.