What We Won
After six years of organizing by domestic workers together with unions, employers, clergy and community organizations, New York State passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (A1470B/S2311E) on August 31, 2010. Domestic workers are finally recognized as real workers under the law!!
The fight was not easy. Angelica Hernandez, a member of Domestic Workers United, traveled to Albany twenty-six times during the course of the campaign; each trip to Albany is a 12-14 hour day. In addition to Domestic Workers United, members of all of the New York Domestic Workers Justice Coalition groups – Adhikaar for Human Rights, Unity Housecleaners, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers – rallied, marched, attended meetings and mobilized during the six year-long effort. The commitment and leadership of domestic workers inspired thousands to join the campaign.
Inspiring Victory for Domestic Workers!
We Made History!
New York becomes first state to recognize domestic workers!
What did we win?
- We won recognition. For the first time in any state, domestic workers will be included in all of the major labor laws protecting other workers. This includes: overtime pay at time and a half your regular rate of pay, a minimum of one day of rest per week, protection from discrimination and harassment and inclusion of part-time workers in disability laws.
- We challenged and expanded how minimum standards are legislated. We established a mandatory minimum of at least three paid days leave per year. Because New York is an employment at will state, workers do not receive paid leave, unless you have a contract that states otherwise. Domestic workers pushed legislators to understand the specific challenges to negotiation in the domestic setting and set a new precedent where minimum standards for domestic workers include paid days off.
- We are paving the way for a new labor movement. We are forcing a debate about the existing structures for collective bargaining. Included in the bill is a mandate to the Department of Labor to study the feasibility and specific challenges to collective bargaining for domestic workers under the current state and federal labor-relations laws. This is the first study of its kind, and domestic workers are helping shape the investigation through a partnership with the Department of Labor, in addition to producing our own independent study.
- We – working-class immigrant women of color – are inspiring other workers and communities everywhere to continue organizing. Throughout the country and around the world, other low-wage workers, women and oppressed communities have been encouraged by this win to fight. With this victory, we have demonstrated that even in times of economic crisis and anti-immigrant sentiment, we can achieve major victories that change the course of history for working-people through organizing.
Inspired by our victory, our sisters in California have launched their campaign for a California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. (To read more about the campaign in California)
History of Domestic Worker Organizing
Domestic workers have been coming together to organize for dignity, respect, and rights since the late 19th century. The campaign to win the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is part of a long legacy of struggle led by women of color.
1881: In Atlanta, Georgia, twenty laundresses formed the Atlanta Washing Society. Together they went on a ten-day strike demanding higher wages. The police arrested and fined the participants. However, the organization has gained 3,000 members since its formation.
1934: Dora Jones establishes the Domestic Workers Union in New York, which attempts to create a standard contract to protect domestic workers.
1935: On August 11, 1935 the NLRA, meant to protect workers against unfair labor practices, is passed. However, the legislation excludes domestic workers.
1935:The Social Security Act is passed, but, like much of the legislation associated with President Roosevelt’s New Deal, excludes domestic workers.
1937: A Domestic Workers Association sponsored by the National Negro Congress began organizing in New York City.
1938: The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) gets enacted in 1938. It sets standards for minimum wage and overtime pay for the majority of workers. It does not include domestic workers.
1942: Because of shortages during WWII, Jean Collier Brown organized the United Domestic Workers’ Local Industrial Union 1283 in Baltimore, MD. However, by the end of WWII, the organization was largely gone.
1940s: Many whites feared the formation of “Eleanor Clubs,” formally organized groups of black female domestic workers who were inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s tendency to challenge racial conventions. The fear was so widespread that in 1942, the FBI launched a formal investigation into the matter, and concluded that the “Eleanor Clubs,” whose rumoured motto was “No colored maid in the kitchen by Christmas,” did not exist.
1955: Rosa Parks, an African-American domestic worker, refused to sit at the back of a public bus, an event which launched the modern Civil Rights Movement because of its media coverage.
1965: Geraldine Roberts began organizing African-American women who were working as domestic servants in Cleveland, Ohio. Her efforts resulted in the creation of the Domestic Workers of America, which was chartered in 1966, and whose accomplishments include providing training, offering job placements, and establishing a registry for domestic workers.
1968: Dorothy Bolden, an African-American domestic worker and civil rights activist, helped organize the National Union of Domestic Workers. Under her direction, the organization, which aimed to set wage standards for women employed as domestic workers, instituted a “Maids Honor Day,” to bring attention to the work that has long been undervalued.
1969: Mary McClendon creates the Domestic Workers Organization in Detroit.
1972: Las Tecnicas del Hogar de America is formed with the support of the Comite Nacional de Empleadas del Hogar. It brings together local organizations throughout the country that fight for domestic workers’ rights. Along with other campaigns, they lobbied for the protection of minimum wages for domestic workers.
1974: Federal Labor Standards Act extends overtime and minimum wage rights to domestic workers. The amendments exclude home caregivers, live-in domestic workers and nannies.
1990s: Most recent generation of domestic worker organizing takes hold, from coast to coast, with organizations like CHIRLA, MUA, and DWU bringing workers together to make change.
2000: California declares March 30th Domestic Worker Appreciation Day.
2004 Domestic Workers Bill of Rights introduced in New York State Assembly.
2006: Domestic Workers Rights legislation passes California State Legislature and is vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
2007: The National Domestic Workers Alliance is founded at the United States Social Forum.
2009: International Domestic Workers Network is founded by domestic worker groups and unions from around the world to push for the passage of the world’s first Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the International Labor Organization.
2010: New York State passes the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which grants domestic workers paid days off, overtime at the regular rate of pay, protection from discrimination and harassment, and opens up the possibility to collective bargaining by commissioning a study by the New York State Department.
Special thanks to Premilla Nadasen, Associate Professor of History at Queens College-CUNY, for her work in documenting the history of domestic workers and their organizing. Paolina Lu, DWU intern, assisted in the compilation of key historical moments.