Domestic workers organized, and the Philadelphia City Council passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights!

On Wednesday, October 31, 2019, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Officially, the City Council amended a chapter in its “Fair Practices Ordinance: Protections Against Unlawful Discrimination.” The Council amended the chapter entitled “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces,” by adding a new chapter, “Protections for Domestic Workers,” “all to provide protections for domestic workers and to establish remedial and enforcement provisions, all under certain terms and conditions.” 

As the City Council put it, this “landmark” legislation “provides protections and rights for domestic workers that will give the city one of the strongest laws in the country.” The bill’s principal sponsor, City Councilwoman Maria Quinoñes-Sánchezexplained, “The women have bravely told their stories about non-payment and sexual harassment, and despite their challenges whether they are undocumented or not, they have helped us put together not only the best piece of legislation, but a task force that is going to ensure the implementation with a comprehensive education campaign.” Director of the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, Nicole Kligerman, added, “Domestic workers have been excluded from all labor protections in the history of the U.S. Today, for the first time, Philadelphia domestic workers have won the same rights and protections that all other workers have in Philadelphia. We’re the largest city to do so and it’s the best law in the country.”

Nine states have passed versions of Domestic Workers’ Bills of Rights: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Nevada. This year, Seattle also passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Each version is more expansive, more specific. In July, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced the federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. From coast to coast, state by state, city by city, the racially based exclusion of domestic workers from the dignity of labor protections is being challenged and overturned. 

At each turn, domestic workers have exhibited organizational prowess and extraordinary courage and bravery, as Councilwoman Quinoñes-Sánchez noted. While domestic workers’ courage and bravery is admirable, why must they be heroic in order to attain the basic rights workers are meant to have? What is the regime of intimidation and, at times, terror that blankets the work and labor of care givers, nannies, and housekeepers? How will we pay for the decades of pain and suffering inflicted on mostly women of color, all in the name of “economic growth”, all the while chanting the “our” domestic workers are treated “like one of the family”?

These are questions for down the road. But for now, it’s time for celebration. In October 2019, South African domestic workers won a major victory in the courthouse, and Philadelphia domestic workers won a major victory in the City Hall. Both of these victories are landmark events that expand and deepen domestic workers’ rights, dignity and power everywhere. The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: (Tim Tai / Philadelphia Inquirer)

For women workers, it’s time to change the song

Reading the names of the missing women.

Across Turkey, women are at the forefront of the demonstrations. And not only women. Feminists: “At first groups of students chanted: `We are the soldiers of Ataturk’; this died out after feminist protesters objected to its militaristic overtones.”

From the first eruption through today, the Turkish movement has been a giant popular feminist education site, and one that includes sex workers: “`We used to sing ‘Erdogan is the son of a whore’. But when the police teargassed us, one of the brothels on Taksim Square opened its doors, and the women gave us shelter and treated us with lemons. We don’t sing that any more.’”

The solidarity of sex workers taught demonstrators that sex workers are workers, sisters, and women. Sex workers are not epithets or metaphors, and they are not criminals. They are part of the working mass, and they can represent themselves.

In the past week, sex worker organizations have taught exactly the same lesson to workers, social movements, and the State, around the world.

Across Canada this weekend, sex workers and supporters demonstrated, under the Red Umbrella, for legalization of sex work and for sex workers’ rights as workers, women, and women workers. This week, Canada’s Supreme Court will finally hear a challenge by Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch to the constitutionality of the laws concerning sex work.

Former and current sex workers have argued that criminalization makes sex workers more vulnerable, forces them further underground, further isolates them, and impedes access to public and social services. It’s a hard life, and the laws only make it harder, sometimes fatally so: “When Kerry Porth remembers her life as a sex worker in Vancouver, she can’t help but wonder how she survived when so many other prostitutes died a gruesome death at the hands of notorious serial killer Robert Pickton. `They were women just like me. Looking back, realizing just how much risk I was at, it was a real eye-opener.’”

In Kenya, sex workers in Laikipia District have organized a group called the Laikipia Peer Educators. They want formal recognition. They want the protection that formal recognition might provide, and they want the citizenship, the opportunity to participate and contribute to the common good in the same manner as every other worker. They want to trade in stigma for taxes.

In Australia, the Scarlet Alliance, representing Australian sex workers, lobbied to have foreign sex workers included among the skilled work visas. Sex work is legal across Australia, to varying degrees, but it’s not considered “skilled labor” by the State, at least not yet. Massage therapists, gardeners, florists, cooks, dog handlers, fashion designers, bed and breakfast operators, entertainers, dancers, recreation officers, makeup artists, jockeys, gymnastic coaches and horse riding instructors are considered skilled labor, but not sex work.

This is about work that is not called work, workers who are not called workers, and women who are told they cannot represent themselves. This concerns sex workers, as it concerns domestic workers in the United States. Both Hawaii and California seem to be on the verge of implementing or of passing respective Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. All workers are workers. Period.

Feminist political economists have argued for decades that women’s work is work, whether it’s waged or not, whether it’s called work or not. Women workers have known this and have organized for centuries for recognition, dignity, autonomy, rights and power.

From the social movements in Turkey to the courthouse in Canada to the District government in Kenya to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship to the state houses across the United States, it’s time. It’s time to recognize women’s work, all work, as work, and to recognize all workers as workers. It’s time to change the song.

 

(Photo Credit: Rabble.ca / Murray Bush / Flux)

Domestics: Tell Governor Brown Domestic Workers Are Workers

Hundreds of thousands of domestic workers will remain unprotected by state law while at work following Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of AB889. While Brown acknowledged they were doing “noble work”, he felt there were “too many unanswered questions” about the bill’s contents. A fair portion of his questions expressed concern for the employer, not the domestic worker.

The measure would have provided meal breaks, overtime pay, and rest periods during long shifts. Opponents of AB889, such as the California Chamber of Commerce, argued that allowing domestic workers to have such provisions would be “impractical at best and dangerous at worst.”

Cost effectiveness is something that should be considered in the course of any measure, but not at the expense of workers’ safety. This sort of logic is not tolerated at other levels of business. Domestic work should be no exception. There is a tendency to overlook the importance of domestic workers and to ignore the fact that they are indeed workers. Working in an environment previously deemed the private sphere is no justification for denying over 200,000 individuals their rights.

Their place within the home and their performance of duties that are not traditionally viewed as the task of a non-family member have somehow earned them a place below that of other working class individuals. Brown claimed that domestic work is a “noble endeavor”. If that’s so, why doesn’t it warrant the protections granted to all other occupations of similar status and pay?

Additionally, a large percentage of domestic workers in California are female immigrants. Advocates of this legislation have explained that the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights would provide them with some sorely needed protections. By vetoing this bill, Governor Brown has denied domestic workers their civil rights and forced them to face unsafe working conditions with no means of recourse.

(Image Credit: California Domestic Workers Coalition)

Domestics: Who’s Burdening Whom?

Following Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of the California Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (AB 889), the California Chamber of Commerce expressed support for Brown’s decision and claimed that the bill would have placed a “burden onto working families who are struggling.” Apparently the California Chamber of Commerce does not view sexual harassment, underpayment and  70 hour work weeks – just three of the countless unjust labor standards faced by domestic workers – to be burdensome.

What’s even more alarming than the California Chamber of Commerce’s ignorance is the fact that Brown is on their side. Brown asked, “What would be the additional costs [to the employers of domestic workers]?” But whose cost is greatest here? While the price of nannies, care takers and housekeepers may increase for employers, the cost of not having basic labor protections is surely a greater issue.

Although the business community in California considered AB 889 to be ‘radical’ in its demands, in reality, the bill would have simply extended the rights granted to the rest of the labor workforce to domestic workers. What is ‘radical,’ however, is denying the 200,000 domestic workers in California the same labor protections granted to almost every other manual laborer since the New Deal. As Caitlin Vega, a legislative advocate with the California Labor Federation, stated, “We’re not creating new rights that no one has ever heard of.”

Sylvia Lopez, a worker with the California Domestic Workers Coalition stated, “For decades we have tirelessly cared for California’s homes, children, the elderly and people with disabilities with the protection of basic rights.” Even Brown referred to the work done by domestic workers to be a “noble endeavor.” But until California grants basic labor protections to its domestic workers, a burden will continue to lie on these hard workers and their families.

Michael Smith, michaelsmith093@gmail.com

Domestic Workers’ Rights: An Increasingly Relevant Transnational Issue

California Governor Brown’s recent veto of the Domestic Workers‘ Bill of Rights (AB889) has given several domestic workers‘ groups a platform on which to raise awareness about and discuss the significance of equal rights for and, even more, valuation of domestic workers. Unfortunately, this is the only positive outlook on Brown’s veto.

According to a member of the California Domestic Workers Coalition, “more than just protecting meal breaks, the workers had hoped the bill would signal a fundamental shift in the way society regards their work.” Domestic workers, most of whom also need to provide and take care of their own families, deserve to both feel and actually be legitimate in regards to their job security and self-representation while on the job.

By referring to domestic workers as “companions” to the elderly and disabled, it evokes a responsibility of love and devotion to their employers – one that is too easily manipulated and exploited by the state (in this case, Gov. Brown specifically) who believes it would be dangerous for the elderly and disabled to regulate domestic work.

However, this seems like it would be a very workable issue once domestic workers are recognized under the basic protection of job rights. In fact, the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-jen Poo, says that “it was clear [they] would work through [the state’s questions] during the regulatory process [after the bill was signed].” One foreseeable solution could be the implementation and regulation of shifts by domestic worker unions. This would hopefully allow the workers to receive eight hours of daily and fairly paid work.

Without saying it, it appears that another concern of Governor Brown’s is the immigration status of these California domestic workers. As a US citizen myself, I am less concerned with this aspect of the issue. Since these domestic workers are worthy enough to take care of other people’s children, grandparents, houses, etc., this should earn them the right to visibility in regards to both the law and society.

Zoë Waltz

(Photo Credit: California Domestic Workers Coalition)

Domestics: Governor Brown’s veto of California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights


Last week, Governor Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, a three-year grassroots campaign, blaming “increased costs” and increased “burden onto working class families.” Among other basic worker protections, the bill called for overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and adequate sleeping conditions for live-in domestic workers. For domestic workers in California, where over 90% do not receive overtime pay and many cite issues of sexual harassment and violence on the job, Brown’s decision to prioritize working-class families illustrates a continued disregard for domestic workers as not “really” workers and a continued commitment to the status quo.

In his statement last week announcing the vetoed legislation, Governor Brown called domestic work “a noble endeavor” which deserves fair pay and safe working conditions. Domestic work is indeed a noble endeavor, but in measuring silences we can effectively unpack Governor Brown’s words. Calling domestic work an “endeavor” suggests that the work of caring and maintaining the home is less of a job but more of a service. It is “noble,” because though no one wants to do it, it still must be done. All in all, as the doers of “a noble endeavor,” domestic workers are not real contributors to capital. By calling their work “noble endeavors,” Brown makes the domestic work visible in recognizing its importance; however, Brown’s subsequent veto of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights keeps the domestic workers invisible in failing to recognize domestic work as a “profession” which deserves the same respect and protections found in other jobs.

Furthermore by taking the side of working-class families who “are struggling, I’m sure, to already afford a nanny,” Brown avoids the bigger issue of class production. Both the production of middle class success and the reproduction of the middle class status rely on the burdening of domestic workers. In other words, the middle class cannot survive without the hiring of domestic workers to reaffirm middle class status. At the end, a veto of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights is really a commitment to prioritize middle class comforts over the domestic workers’ basic rights. Brown’s ultimate decision to avoid burdening the middle class is a decision to continue burdening domestic workers in order to distinguish class.

Governor Brown also cites the possibility that increased rights for domestic workers could result in job cuts. Brown raises potentially negative consequences to justify his veto rather than working through these issues later, as Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance maintains: “it was clear we would work through those questions during the regulatory process.” Essentially, Brown’s veto put an end to possible negotiations and other ways to look at the issue. As Kathi Weeks recommends, we must be careful of knowing “too much too soon” and continue to imagine other possibilities and different ways to live. Another household is possible.

(Photo Credit: California Domestic Workers Coalition)

The Nannies’ fervor of freedom

Many thousands of domestic workers are employed in New York state as housekeepers, nannies, and companions to the elderly. The labor of domestic workers is central to the ongoing prosperity that the state enjoys, and yet, despite the value of their work, domestic workers do not receive the same protection of many state laws as do workers in other industries. Domestic workers often labor under harsh conditions, work long hours for low wages without benefits or job security, are isolated in their workplaces, and are endangered by sexual harassment and assault, as well as verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. Moreover, many domestic workers the state of New York are women of color who, because of race and sex discrimination, are particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices. Additionally, domestic workers are not afforded by law the right to organize labor unions for the purpose of collective bargaining. The legislature finds that because domestic workers care for the most important elements of their employers’ lives, their families and homes, it is in the interest of employees, employers, and the people of the state of New York to ensure that the rights of domestic workers are respected, protected, and enforced.”

Thus opens the New York Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, signed into law by Governor Paterson, August 31, 2010, after a six and some year mighty campaign waged by Domestic Workers United, or DWU, and their allies. This is the first such law to be passed in the United States, where domestic workers and farm workers have been excluded from labor laws. It is a historic moment. An unforgettable day.

Priscilla Gonzalez, DWU Executive Director and the U.S.-born daughter of an Ecuadoran woman who works as a housekeeper, said, “We’ve made history today, not just for us, but for generations to come to prove that change can happen when we stand for dignity, justice, & respect for all!”.

Patricia Francois, a DWU member and nanny originally from Trinidad, explained, “We work long hours, no overtime pay. My experience, after working six-and-a-half years, never had an increase in salary, as well as no overtime pay. At times, if you work on your vacation, if you don’t stand up for that vacation pay, you will not get it. You know, and it’s hard at times—when you stand up for yourself, that is the time the abuse comes in. You get a verbal abuse. You get threatened with immigration. And it’s wrong. It’s wrong.”

Nannies struggle for respect and recognition, and the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Right is an important first step in that struggle. It’s about emancipation, freedom. As DWU member and nanny Dolores Wright noted, it’s a struggle for emancipation from abuse and exploitation. As Bill sponsor Delegate Keith Wright proclaimed, “”President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Here we are in 2010.Governor Paterson will sign his version of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Emancipation. For housekeepers, nannies, and companions to the elderly. What would nanny emancipation look like? What is a nanny?

For some, such as those who write dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary, a nanny is a “person, esp. a woman, employed by a family to look after a child or children; a children’s nursemaid. A grandmother.” For those people, nanny comes from Anne or Agnes.

But another river runs through the word, nanny, a river that betokens insurgency, militancy, national liberation. That’s the nanny of Jamaica’s Queen Nanny, the early eighteenth-century leader of the Windward Jamaican Maroons, a National Hero. According to historian Karla Gottlieb, Queen Nanny is the mother of us all, because “Nanny had at least two significant contributions that changed the direction of the modern world: first, she developed Guerrilla warfare and the tactics she used were later studied by military strategist in the Vietnam War and others. Second, because she and her people established the first independent black polity in the New World, she led the way for freedom struggles in Haiti, Brazil, the U.S., Guadelope, Surinam… – anywhere where there were enslaved Africans. Without the work of the Maroons under her leadership, I believe the world would be a different place.”

This is the Nanny that is kept out of the stories of domestic worker organizing and emancipation. The Nanny of shrewd and insightful guerilla warfare, the Nanny of coast-to-coast freedom struggle.

In the words of Barbadian dub dub poet Jean Binta Breeze, Nanny is the fervor of freedom, and it’s time to honor her name and life, in actions and deeds. Blow the trumpets, sound the abeng. Nanny emancipation includes and values a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, it insists on employers treating workers with respect and dignity, and it also dreams of national liberation, of a nation-State and a world in which every Nanny shall govern.

so mek wi soun de abeng fi Nanny

 

(Photo Credit 1: Colorlines) (Photo Credit 2: Hall of the Black Dragon)