National Survey Finds Domestic Workers Suffer Abuses Illegal in Most Labor Sectors

DSC 0010Early this morning, DWU members, together with the members of our New York affiliate organizations, gathered in New York's Grand Central Station to distribute the findings of The National Domestic Workers' Alliance new groundbreaking report, Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work. Bringing public awareness to the often deplorable work conditions faced by many domestic workers, the report documents the experiences of more than 2,000 nannies, housecleaners, and elder care providers in 14 cities across the U.S., providing insight into what it means to be a domestic worker in contemporary America. The study focuses on four primary aspects of the domestic work industry:

● Low pay, lack of benefits and their impact on the lives of workers and their families;
● Lack of enforceable contracts and substandard conditions of work;
● Hazardous working conditions, on-the-job injuries and the lack of access to health care;
● Abuse at work with no recourse or remedy.

Key findings include:

● 23% of workers surveyed are paid less than the minimum wage;
● 48% of workers earn a wage below the level needed to adequately support a family;
● 10% of workers are victims of wage theft, including not receiving any wages at all;
● 23% reported being paid late, compounding the high burdens of low-wage work;
● 25% of live-in workers had work responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night in the week before being surveyed;
● Domestic workers often endure verbal, psychological, and physical abuse on the job, and, because of the vulnerabilities they face, rarely have effective recourse;
● Domestic workers who are hired directly by their employers have severely limited employment rights and can find no remedy in federal law for employment discrimination, unsafe working conditions or constraints on their right to organize and bargain collectively.

The report also contains policy recommendations, including:

● Lifting the exclusion of domestic workers in all state-level minimum wage laws;
● Adding domestic workers to workers' compensation and unemployment insurance programs;
● Guaranteeing equal rights to overtime pay, and meal and rest breaks;
● Protecting domestic workers under all state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Domestic Workers United welcomes the release of Home Economics. The study underscores why our initiatives for the rights of domestic workers are so critical. The report details the ways in which many workers are subject to low pay, lack of employment benefits and contract agreements, and often experience workplace abuse:DSC 0014

Low Pay

• 23 percent of workers surveyed are paid below the state minimum wage.

• 70 percent are paid less than $13 an hour.

• Domestic workers earn a median hourly wage of $10 an hour.

• 28 percent of nannies are paid less than the minimum wage.

• 67 percent of live-in workers are paid below the state minimum wage; the median hourly wage of these workers is $6.15.

• 48 percent of workers are paid an hourly wage in their primary job that is below the level needed to adequately support a family.

Lack of Benefits

• Less than 2 percent of workers receive retirement or pension benefits from their primary employer.

• Less than 9 percent work for employers who pay into Social Security.

• 65 percent do not have health insurance, and only 4 percent receive employer-provided health insurance.

• Only 4 percent of employers pay into workers' compensation insurance programs.

Family Hardship

• 60 percent spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments.

• 37 percent of workers paid their rent or mortgage late during the year prior to being interviewed.

• 40 percent paid some of their other essential bills late during the same time period.

• 20 percent report that there were times in the previous month when there was no food to eat in their homes because there was no money to buy any.

Contracts and Agreements

• Just 8 percent of domestic workers have written contracts with their primary employer.

• Two-thirds of domestic workers carry out their responsibilities on the basis of informal conversations with their employers about job expectations.

• 30 percent of workers who have a written contract or other agreement report that their employers disregarded at least one of the provisions in the prior 12 months.

• 24 percent of workers report that in the week prior to being interviewed they were assigned work beyond their job description. 74 percent of these workers felt they could not refuse the additional work, and 67 percent were not paid for their extra time.

• 35 percent of domestic workers report that they worked long hours without breaks in the prior 12 months.

• Nearly 50 percent of live-in workers are expected to be available to work at any time.

• Among workers who are fired from a domestic work job, 23 percent are fired for complaining about working conditions, and 18 percent are fired for protesting violations of their contract or agreement.

Health and Safety

• 38 percent of workers suffered from work-related wrist, shoulder, elbow, or hip pain in the past 12 months.

• 31 percent suffered from other soreness and pain in the same period.

• 67 percent of housecleaners report that they work with toxic cleaning products.

• 29 percent of housecleaners suffered from skin irritation, and 20 percent had trouble breathing in the prior 12 months.

• 36 percent of nannies contracted an illness while at work in the prior 12 months.

• 29 percent of caregivers suffered a back injury in the prior 12 months.

• 25 percent of live-in workers had responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night in the week prior to being interviewed.

• 82 percent of workers do not receive paid sick days. Of workers who were fired from a domestic-work job, 20 percent were discharged for missing work to take care of themselves or a family member.

Abuse on the Job

• Live-in workers are more than twice as likely as other workers to be yelled at or verbally abused on the job. 36 percent of live-in workers and 16 percent of workers who do not live in report being threatened, insulted or verbally abused by an employer.

• Workers who report problematic working conditions, also report their fears about complaining to their employers. 91 percent fear losing their jobs. 59 percent worry that their pay or hours will be reduced, and 42 percent fear employer violence.

• 85 percent of undocumented immigrants who work in substandard conditions do not complain because they fear their immigration status will be used against them.

outsidegcThe study was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. Between June 2011 and February 2012, 2,086 domestic workers were surveyed in 14 metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. To read the full report and learn more about the methodology, visit

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