With many domestic workers living on poverty-level wages and facing substandard working conditions, the U.S. “must enact and enforce policies that rectify the exclusion of domestic workers from employment and labor laws,” according to a study released last week.
This means giving domestic workers rights that are standard in other industries, including the right to organize, earn minimum wage, get paid for overtime, receive unemployment insurance and have a guaranteed, standard number of hours of uninterrupted sleep, the study said.
Twenty-three percent of all domestic workers in the United States and 67 percent of live-in workers, including nannies, housecleaners, and elder caregivers, earn less than minimum wage.
In most cases, domestic workers are not subject to minimum wage laws. Most domestic workers also are excluded from antidiscrimination, workers’ compensation and other labor laws, leaving them vulnerable to wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and long hours that often interfere with raising their own families, the study reports.
Titled “Home Economics: the Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work,” the study illustrates what happens when a group of workers is not included in basic workplace protections. Because most domestic work is not regulated by many common U.S. labor laws, domestic workers often are at the whim of their employers.
The study found that 65 percent of domestic workers have no health insurance, and 82 percent do not have access to paid sick leave. Only half of domestic workers earn enough to adequately support their families, and nearly a quarter reported being paid late, leaving them even more financially strained.
Domestic workers also are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, which guarantees workers’ rights, including the right to join a union. Passed in 1935, the exclusion was a concession to Southern politicians whose states relied on underpaid black labor. Today, the domestic work industry still depends heavily on minorities, particularly immigrants.
Remedying conditions for domestic workers is closely linked to instituting new protections for other low-wage workers, the study also concludes. The study’s authors recommend that “we must create a more equitable economic environment for all low-wage workers.” Adopting policies like a higher federal minimum wage, guaranteed access to affordable health care and universal paid sick and family leave will help make all low-wage workers more economically secure and “would be major steps toward improving job quality and quality of life for domestic workers.”
The study was released jointly through the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois Chicago, and DataCenter. It included interviews with more than 2000 domestic workers conducted in nine languages in 14 cities across the United States.
Posted December 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm, in Union Matters