Sunday, August 30, 2020

America's Domestic Servitude

Unlike oth­er work­ers who, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus, are pro­tect­ed by fed­er­al and state laws, the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­ca’s 2.5 mil­lion domes­tic work­ers are explic­it­ly left out of these pro­tec­tions.

Domes­tic work­ers live in the lega­cy of slav­ery, and this lega­cy con­tin­ues to shape the sec­tor today,” said Alli­son Julien, co-direc­tor of the New York Chap­ter of We Dream in Black and a found­ing mem­ber of the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­ers Alliance (NDWA). ​Gov­ern­ment lead­ers delib­er­ate­ly carved out domes­tic and farm­work­ers” from any law that could pro­tect their rights, Julien added.

Domes­tic work­ers were exclud­ed from the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act, the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Act and the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act because South­ern sen­a­tors refused to grant equal pro­tec­tion to a work­force made up large­ly of black women. That lega­cy is alive and well today.

Domes­tic work­ers are enti­tled to the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage of $7.25 an hour, but they do not have the right to form unions and are not cov­ered by fed­er­al anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws. Employ­ers are not oblig­at­ed to pro­vide safe work­ing con­di­tions or pro­tec­tive gear for work­ers.

Of  the nine states and the city of Seat­tle which have ver­sions of a domes­tic work­ers’ bill of rights,” most of them lack enforce­able frame­works, accord­ing to Polaris, a non­prof­it that oper­ates a nation­al human traf­fick­ing hot­line, con­ducts research and pro­motes pol­i­cy changes.

New York has a domes­tic work­er law, but peo­ple who work less than 40 hours a week can­not access its ben­e­fits. Day labor­ers who are hired by the day or by the hour, are sim­i­lar­ly exclud­ed from the law’s ben­e­fits, as are undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple. Black and undoc­u­ment­ed domes­tic work­ers have been dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect­ed by these exclu­sions.

The vast major­i­ty of domes­tic work­ers are immi­grants, which makes them par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to exploita­tion and labor traf­fick­ing –when employ­ees are forced to remain on the job through threats, vio­lence or oth­er forms of coer­cion, or brought to a coun­try through fraud­u­lent means. Domes­tic work­ers have often been left to the mer­cy of employ­ers.

Andrea Rojas, direc­tor of Strate­gic Ini­tia­tives at Polaris, says that this is a form of mod­ern-day slav­ery. This sit­u­a­tion, she adds, sends the very dan­ger­ous mes­sage that since these work­ers have been exclud­ed from pro­tec­tions grant­ed to oth­er work cat­e­gories, they are less valu­able. We are talk­ing about for­eign work­ers who often do not know the lan­guage, who are iso­lat­ed and with­out their safe­ty net­works,” Rojas explains. There’s also a pow­er imbal­ance, she adds, when low-paid labor­ers work in wealthy peo­ple’s hous­es.

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