Finally, Congress is considering a national bill of rights for domestic workers
Panelists categorically pointed out that racism and marginalization create the current precariousness of domestic workers.
Domestic workers have endured “a long history of exclusion from basic labor laws, rooted in the legacy of slavery in America,” Ai-jen Poo testified. “This workplace is hidden away, isolated behind closed doors and in private homes.”
While laying out the details of the New Deal’s landmark legislation on reducing inequality, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Southern lawmakers fought for the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers – mostly people of color. These labor reforms, and others throughout the mid-20th century, directly catalyzed America’s lowest rates of inequality — but consistently left millions of American workers out in the cold.
In a rapidly aging nation, the demand for care work is skyrocketing and cannot be “automated or outsourced,” Poo told Congress. Higher standards and protections in the workplace, she argued, will strengthen the quality of care and “to help secure and attract a strong workforce for the future.”
This Bill of Rights could be a similar type of forward-looking freedom document for millions of American women of color as our first so-called universal version. “We see it as a statement of our collective values as Americans, a statement of how we respect all workers, whether they work in an office or at home,” Harris, Jayapal and Poo wrote in a 2018 podium for CNN.
Of course, the Bill of Rights is one way to invest in care. In the New York TimesPoo explained that supporting the workforce is just one part of solving our care crisis: the country should “holistically” invest in care at scale close to infrastructure. We must raise workers’ wages and strengthen their protections – while investing in Medicaid home and community services, child care subsidies, affordable health care, retirement benefits and paid vacations.
This legislative session, Bill of Rights-style protections and corresponding budget appropriations are unlikely to make it to President Biden’s desk – investments in care were too absent this summer Inflation Reduction Actand Republican Committee members spent the hearing fearmongering about inflation, debt, religious discrimination and how the legislation could undermine the ability to “Make employees part of the family.”
But state by state, the tide is turning. Bills of rights are to be adopted in New Jersey and Washington, DC. And Seattle goes further away with its commitment to domestic workers, allocating a quarter of a million dollars for outreach to inform workers of their rights – facilitating settlement justice this summer.
“First of all, it was my ignorance of the laws and the rights I had,” said the domestic worker in Seattle. “But thanks to friends who supported me to do it, I lost my fear and filed a complaint. It was worth the risk and a favorable outcome was given.