Domestic workers

Silverman bill would establish protections for domestic workers

Almost three months to the day since At-Large joined the board Elissa Silverman announced the Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act 2022, the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, which she chairs, is holding a public hearing on the legislation. The bill would provide DC’s roughly 9,000 domestic workers with protections against workplace discrimination and exploitation. At 11 a.m. Thursday, nannies, home care workers, cleaners, cooks and others working from home across the district will talk about their experiences and give their thoughts on the bill. The bill has eight co-signatories, one more than the majority needed to be passed by the full Council.

The bill would require anyone in DC who hires a domestic worker for more than five hours per month to provide a written contract that sets standards for hours, compensation and scope of work. This would also include domestic workers, who are mostly black and brown women, under local laws that protect against workplace discrimination and unsafe working conditions.

The bill also enjoys a strong network of support from faith leaders in the DC area: 45 leaders of different faiths across the district have signed a “Religious Leaders Pledge for Domestic Workers.” Bill Mefford, executive director at The Party Centeran organization linking faith groups and social justice organizations, began organizing faith leaders in advocacy efforts after realizing that agricultural and domestic workers excluded labor protections enacted in the 1930s are still enacted today.

‘They didn’t want their black nannies to have rights,’ Mefford says of southern Democrats during Franklin D. Rooseveltadministration. “So basically what we’re trying to do is not just fix something that should have been fixed 100 years ago. We’re trying to fix something that… should never have been broken. And it literally goes back to slavery.

For Francisca Alvarez, who came to DC 29 years ago from the Dominican Republic, where she worked as an accountant, childcare was a new field she enjoyed after initially working as a housekeeper. She loved the challenges of being a nanny and helped her children learn Spanish.

But those joys were overshadowed by poor working conditions, she says. The verbal agreements Alvarez had with his employers were initially good. She had to organize the children’s rooms, prepare their food, take them on trips to the park and do some cleaning while the children slept. But soon the parents fired their housekeeper and asked her to do a deep cleaning as well. This request meant that she could not take a lunch break and diverted her attention from the children she was supposed to care for. Without a written agreement, Alvarez was forced to either comply with the parents’ demands or quit her job, she says.

The second family she worked with treated her well, until the parents started arriving late from work. Her work day was 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Their lateness went from 30 minutes to up to two hours, Alvarez said. At the time, she had a little girl in daycare. If she was more than five minutes late to pick her up, the daycare charged an extra $2 per minute.

The parents did not compensate her for the extra time, she said, and instead apologized and promised not to be late again.

“We have kids too, we have dreams, we have families, and we deserve to be paid well so our kids can go to college too,” Alvarez says.

After this employment, Alvarez refused to work without a written contract. She asked for health insurance and two weeks of vacation a year to be able to visit her home country. Silverman’s bill doesn’t include health insurance or paid vacation, but Alvarez is pushing to add those benefits.

The bill would also require the city to engage and educate the public about domestic worker rights and provide sample employment contracts for domestic workers.

Caroline Davis recalls the “awkward” situation when, as a young mother on Capitol Hill, she had a makeshift written contract for her nanny. It was difficult to assess a good level of pay, holidays, working hours and daily breaks, she said, and other families did not want to talk about it openly. Davis says the education component of the bill will address that issue.

“Trying to navigate private spaces, but with professional boundaries, is something that I think we struggle to do as a people,” Davis says. “Receiving the tools to try to do better feels like such a gift.”

You can watch the public hearing tomorrow at 11 a.m. EST at facebook.com/CMElissaSilverman.

—Ambar Castillo (tips? [email protected])

NOTE: We updated a quote from a previous article.

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By Ambar Castillo (tips? [email protected])