On June 16, the world celebrated International Domestic Workers Day, commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189), which established international labor protections for domestic workers. Since the treaty was adopted in 2011, domestic workers have won legal protections in more than 30 countries, guaranteeing common workplace rights such as minimum wages, rest days and paid holidays.
Unfortunately, the United States is not one of them.
In the United States, there are more than 2 million domestic workers – mostly black, Latina and immigrant women – who care for our homes and our children, the elderly and people with disabilities. They improve the quality of life of millions of people, make the work of others possible and keep the economy moving. yet, for systemic reasons, stemming from the racial and gender divisions of labor rooted in slavery, domestic workers remain devalued.
Domestic workers are excluded from US labor law by design. Congress excluded domestic workers from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to appease white Southern lawmakers who wanted to maintain free and cheap labor supplied primarily by women of color. To date, this country does not guarantee a minimum wage or overtime pay for these essential workers. To keep these Jim Crow laws on the books is to support racist policies and further oppression in the workplace.
This work is personal. We come from families of social workers who did not have the protections they deserved. That is why we are pushing back this painful and too often ignored story. Last year, Care in Action worked with domestic workers and sponsors Del. Cia Price, Del. Wendy Gooditis and State Senator Jennifer McClellan to adopt a Virginia Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. This landmark legislation extends common rights in the workplace to cleaners, caregivers and nannies. Virginia is the first state in the South to codify protections for these workers and finally turn the page on this ugly chapter of our past.
While passage of these laws is essential and long overdue, we can’t help but wonder: How long will it take for the rest of the country to catch up? Progress doesn’t have to be a painful, tedious process. Swift federal action can protect all workers across the country.
Instead of state-by-state piecemeal solutions, Congress can adopt a national bill of rights for domestic workers. Now is the time for Virginia’s congressional delegation to build on the momentum at the state level and establish vital protections for millions of domestic workers.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, domestic worker occupations are the fastest growing labor force and will grow more than three times the rate of other occupations over the next decade. Despite these figures, domestic workers are also three times more likely to live in poverty than other workers. From 2010 to 2020, jobs in home care and health care aides grew 64% in Virginia, yet these essential workers earn an average of $10.14 an hour and have an average annual income of just $16. $500.
Even though the national workforce is growing and meeting the very real needs of families, the United States is not doing enough to invest in our healthcare infrastructure. These workers deserve decent pay, paid sick and family leave, breaks, safe work environments, and a strong commitment from Congress.
It is unethical and exploitative for the United States – a global economic leader – to continue to exclude domestic workers from basic federal labor laws. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris support expanding rights for domestic workers and ensuring that “domestic workers have a voice in the workplace.” Democratic majorities in Congress should pass a bill to finally right this historic wrong.
Of the. PriceD-Newport News, is the main patron of the House version of the Virginia Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Alexis Rodgers is the organizing director of Care in Action, a political and advocacy organization for domestic workers.