Legislature Passes Historic Bill to Protect Domestic Workers

July 1, 2010
Albany – The New York Legislature passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, A.1470B (Wright)/ S.2311E (Savino), making New York the first state in the nation to provide new standards of worker protections for more than 200,000 employees in an industry which has gone unregulated for decades.

This historic legislation guarantees protection from discrimination, notice of termination, paid sick days and holidays, and other basic labor protections long denied to nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers employed in private homes.

The legislation passed 90-38 in the Assembly and 35-26 in the Senate.

Supporters of the bill have worked tirelessly for the past six years to bring the landmark legislation to this point. In June 2009, the Assembly passed similar legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Keith Wright. For the past several weeks, the two houses worked to reconcile the different versions and have now come to an agreement. Once signed into law by the Governor, the bill will provide a national model for other states seeking to improve the conditions of domestic labor.

"For far too long, domestic workers have labored tirelessly without the labor protections available to almost every other group of workers throughout New York State. They have been subject to abuse, long hours without respite, dangerous working conditions, and they have had nowhere to turn for justice. This law will change that equation. This is the first piece of legislation of its kind in the Nation and for the last six years I have been working hard to ensure that New York State continues to support the progressive ideals which allowed us to set the original standard for labor protections in America. I applaud the tenacity of all of the domestic workers who lobbied, advocated and rallied for this legislation for many, many years and helped our State reach this historic point. I have been proud to stand alongside them and our tremendously effective Senate sponsor, Senator Diane Savino, throughout this lengthy struggle," said Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem.

“Every now and then the New York State Legislature gets to make history and today is that day. We have led the way in worker protections time and time again, establishing child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and workplace protections in sweatshops, long before the federal government did. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former New York State Senator himself, signed the National Labor Relations Act, sweeping legislation that gave us the basic labor protections that we all enjoy, but which unfortunately excluded domestic workers. Since then they have toiled without any rights whatsoever. That changes now. This law will dramatically improve the daily lives of the 200,000 women and men of this ‘invisible workforce’. Most importantly, it will send the clear message that domestic workers, who provide the crucial services that keep this state running, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I commend my colleague in the Assembly, Keith Wright, who has been fighting for this bill for over six years, and without whom this victory would not be possible,” said Senator Diane J. Savino (D-Brooklyn/Staten Island).

Some highlights of the provisions in this legislation include:

  • Grant time and a half overtime pay if a domestic employee works over 40 hours per week, or 44 hours if the employee lives in the employer’s home;
  • Exclude babysitters, family members of employers and people who provide companionship services from the definition of a domestic worker;
  • Provide that domestic workers may choose a day of rest each week;
  • Grants domestic workers three additional days of rest each year, once he or she has worked for the same employer for one year;
  • Require domestic workers receive minimum wage and protection under the disability law; and
  • Provide that the Department of Labor (DOL) establish a working group and report to the Governor and Legislature by November 1st, 2010 on the working conditions of domestic workers, the feasibility of attaining benefits commensurate with other workers, and the possibility of unionization.

Domestic Workers, who are excluded from federal labor laws, often face exploitation and abuse in the workplace. A study conducted by Domestic Workers United, a non-profit organization of domestic workers and advocates, found that 33 percent of domestic workers reported verbal or physical abuse at the hands of their employers, while another 67 percent reported sometimes or never receiving overtime pay.

Priscilla Gonzalez, Director of Domestic Workers United, said, "The Bill of Rights validates the important work that domestic workers have always done to support families and homes throughout New York State. This is a huge step in the director of beginning to reverse seventy-five years of exclusion under the law. Justice has been achieved for these workers who make all other work possible."

Barbara Young, a nanny in Manhattan, said, “We care for our employers’ children, elderly parents, and homes – the most important elements of a person’s life – so we take great pride and care in our work. Still, we are not respected or seen as real workers that deserve the same rights as everyone else. The time has finally come for us to get the

recognition we deserve."

Ai-Jen Poo, the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said, "This is a breakthrough victory for 2.5 million domestic workers around the country who deserve rights, respect, and recognition. We expect many states to follow, with California leading the way. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is also a beacon of hope for all working

people in these uncertain times-- victories are possible, if we organize. And domestic workers are organizing!"

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “For too long, domestic workers have been excluded from basic labor protections, a legacy leftover from the Jim Crow era. Domestic workers take care of New York’s children, our sick, and our aging parents and grandparents. They keep New York going. We applaud the State Legislature for standing up for equal protections for all of New York’s workers and passing this landmark legislation.”

Donna Schneiderman, an employer of a domestic worker and member of the Employers for Justice Network of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, said, “This is an important opportunity for employers of domestic workers to stand alongside those who make a difference in our lives and to show our commitment to labor justice in our homes.”

This bill has passed both houses and now awaits action from the Governor.