Sunday, April 26th 2009, 4:00 AM
Thousands of domestic workers and their supporters are expected to rally Tuesday in Albany to push for final passage of the urgently needed Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
For five long years nannies, housekeepers and caregivers have patiently waited for the State of New York to grant them the same protection under the law that other laborers take for granted. Surely, equality is not too much to ask for those to whom we entrust our loved ones and homes.
"We have waited far too long," said Ai-jen Poo, the lead organizer for Domestic Workers United, the largest coalition of nannies, housekeepers and caregivers in the city.
Hopefully they won't have to wait much longer. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the first legislation of its kind in the country, could be approved this year.
The bill lays out a comprehensive set of rights based on the possible abuses - isolation, sexual harassment, ill-defined work hours - that nannies, housekeepers and caregivers face in private homes.
A study by Domestic Workers United and Data Center found that in 2006, while 59% of domestic workers were the primary income earners for their own families, 87% were paid less than an hour. And even though they generally worked 40 to 60 hours a week, 67% were not paid for overtime. In addition the survey found that 90% reported they had no health insurance. Since the survey titled, "Home is Where the Work Is: Inside New York's Domestic Work Industry," was conducted the situation has deteriorated even further.
This bill will allow domestic workers to enjoy the rights to paid holidays, vacation and sick days. It also compels employers to treat domestics not as servants, but as what they are: real workers.
Approved by the Senate and Assembly Labor Committees earlier this year, the bill has the backing of senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens).
Supported by more than 80 organizations, including the New York State AFL-CIO, the bill would go a long way to redress some of the abuse and discrimination nannies, caregivers and housekeepers have traditionally endured.
One group, Jews for Racial and Economic Equality, began to work with Domestic Workers United in 2002. It calls for "racial and economic justice in partnership with Jewish and allied people of color, low-income and immigrant communities in New York City."
"Now is the time to bring together all the power in the New York Jewish community to create justice for domestic workers with this historic piece of legislation," said Donna Schneider, the group's executive director.
Two years ago the group created a successful - if unusual - Employers for Justice network in synagogues and other Jewish communities. The members feel that the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights falls in line with their Jewish values.
The employers have strived to make concrete improvements in their employment practices. They have also been active in supporting passage of the legislation, including a forum held in Manhattan last week by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.
"Now more than ever, we need this bill of rights," said Deloris Wright, a domestic worker in the city. "It's been hard for us for a long time, but conditions are getting worse because the financial crisis has our backs against the wall. We have no safety net at all."
Poo, who for five years has worked tirelessly for the bill's passage, is optimistic.
"It will pass this time," she said.
Not a moment too soon.