Domestic Workers Push for Bill of Rights
June 12th, 2009
Taking care of children and the elderly: Check.
A bill of rights: left blank.
Early this morning, dozens of domestic workers and their allies set up shop outside City Hall, participating in a 24-hour vigil to lobby for a bill that would provide basic labor protections for domestic workers in New York.
Domestic laborers said that the 24-hour vigil is symbolic of their working situation. “We work in the employers’ house around the clock, 24 hours,” said Joycelynn Gill-Campbell, a former nanny from Barbados who is now a full-time organizer with Domestic Workers United, a grassroots group.
If passed, the domestic workers’ bill of rights would be the first bill to address their exclusion from federal and state labor laws. Though its prospects, according to some legislators, looked good at one point, it too could become a casualty of the Senate stalemate.
“I know what it is to be treated less than a human being and to be exploited and abused,” Gill-Campbell said. “We have to create history. The bill of rights is about correcting all the injustices that have been done.”
Another member of Domestic Workers United, Patricia Francois from Trinidad, spoke of the abuse she endured from her employer in Manhattan. “After I was beaten physically and verbally, I had to [quit],” she said.
Francois added that if “we don’t go to work, Wall Street doesn’t go to work.”
The legislation, which has been passed by the labor committees in the Senate and the Assembly, includes provisions to ensure that domestic workers would get overtime pay, one day a week off, advance notice of termination and severance pay. It also includes an annual cost of living increase and paid holidays and personal days.
The Senate Codes Committee has approved the bill as well, and it is waiting passage in the Assembly Codes Committee.
But the ongoing debacle in Albany has imperiled the bill.
“The Democratic caucus is serious about this legislation, and we are serious about protecting our workers,” said Ana Tinsley, a spokesperson for Sen. Diane Savino, the main sponsor of the legislation in the Senate. But, “for the time-being, there is a Senate standstill on pretty much everything.”
When asked whether she was confident that the bill would get taken up before the legislative session expires, Tinsley said, “I couldn’t give you a firm yes or no.”
Still, some legislators appear to be confident in the bill’s ultimate passage. Ben Rosen, the communications director for Assemblyman Keith Wright, said that “the prospects are good” for the legislation’s approval before the legislative session expires. Wright is the main sponsor for the bill in the Assembly.
Supporters of the legislation say that the political support is there from both sides of the aisle, like from Republican Sen. Frank Padavan, although some conservatives oppose it. E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute told the New York Times in 2007 that “any attempt like this to mandate working conditions for a large number of entry-level workers can only have one result: fewer such jobs for people who need them.”
Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson told WNYC that “these workers deserve equal rights and if they’re able to pass the bill, or if they’re able to ever get the legislature to come back, I will sign it.”By Alex Kane on June 12, 2009, 5:23 pm
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