This week, just in time for Labor Day weekend, New York Gov. David Paterson signed into law the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The new law, which takes effect in November, is a massive and unprecedented win for the new labor movement—and it is a model for the way organizers and lawmakers alike must begin to think about workers’ rights in the 21st century economy.
The New York law requires overtime pay for nannies, housekeepers and home health aides, guarantees them weekly time off and subjects employers to state law for minimum-wage violations and sexual harassment. These are all basic rights that traditional, full-time employees have long enjoyed, but that a broad swath of workers who are not protected by labor laws have never seen. Last week, the California State Assembly passed a resolution recognizing similar labor standards for domestic workers, rights that lawmakers will likely codify as state law next year. Organizers in other states are working to generate more such victories.
The amazing New York win, spearheaded by Domestic Workers United (DWU) and the New York Domestic Workers Justice Coalition, has received its fair share of congratulations. But this is more than a moving story of downtrodden women confronting the system. Over the longterm, DWU’s approach to labor rights should shape the larger, national project of designing a new economy that doesn’t slowly kill off its workers.