Domestic workers rallied in Springfield, Illinois on April 13 urging members of the state senate to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act (HB 1288). The senate plans to take up and vote on the bill on April 13.
The bill, which has already passed the state house of representatives, will extend basic employment rights such as a minimum wage, at least one day off a week, and freedom from sexual harassment to domestic workers–house cleaners, nannies, and home care workers.
Some of these rights, such as a guaranteed minimum wage, have been in place for nearly a century, but domestic workers have been excluded from these protections.
“I think that most lawmakers agree that this is a very common sense and straightforward piece of legislation, and that it will right a historic wrong for domestic workers who’ve been excluded from basic labor protections for years,” said James Povijua, the Illinois Domestic Bill of Rights campaign director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance to Progress Illinois.
Back in the 1930s, domestic workers were excluded from federal legislation that established labor standards that became the foundation of labor law.
At the time, most domestic workers were either immigrants or African American, and their exclusion was part of compromise reached to gain support of racist Southern lawmakers for laws establishing these standards.
That exclusion continues to affect the working conditions of today’s domestic workers.
Maria Esther Bolaños, a Chicago nanny, said that in order to help support her family, she has been forced to take child care jobs that paid as little as $4 an hour.
Isabel Mendez and Aurelia Aguilar, both Chicago house cleaners, said that have been the victims of wage theft.
Aguilar said that she has cleaned entire houses without being paid. In some cases, she has even been denied lunch breaks during nine-hour work days.
Mendez was fired from a job in which she was owed $10,000 in unpaid wages. The fight to win her back pay got her involved in supporting the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights bill now before the Illinois senate.
Two demographic trends are making domestic workers a growing and more important part of the overall economy.
First, baby boomers, those born in the two decades after the end of World War II, are reaching the age of retirement. As more baby boomers grow older, more will need the services that domestic workers provide, especially home health care services.
In the coming decades, the number of people in the US who are 80 years of age or older is expected to triple. Many of these people will develop health problems that will require the services of home health care workers.
A large contingent of experienced and well-trained home health care workers can help ensure that more elderly people with health problems can stay in their home and avoid going into nursing homes, which in turn will save the federal and state governments money in Medicaid payments to nursing homes.
Second, for most two-parent families, it’s not economically feasible for one parent to stay home, take care of the children, and do the work needed to maintain a home.
In many cases, both adults are holding down full-time jobs and need child care and/or house cleaning services provided by domestic workers.
Both trends are increasing the need and demand for domestic workers. .
According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, the demand for home care workers will be particularly acute in the coming years. It reports that the home care workforce is currently estimated to be 3.3 million and that number is projected to increase nearly 50 percent to 4.9 million by 2020, making it the largest occupational group in the US.
Demand for other domestic workers is also growing, but most of these workers don’t enjoy the same labor protections that other workers take for granted.
Groups of workers whose members include domestic workers have joined forces in Illinois to extend these protections to domestic workers.
They created the Domestic Workers Coalition to push the legislature to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
If the senate votes to pass the bill, it will be because workers in these organizations built a grassroots movement that brought this injustice to the attention of lawmakers and then made them act to correct it.