Massachusetts Lawmakers Consider Giving Domestic Workers Labor Rights

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On Tuesday, Massachusetts state lawmakers held a hearing on a proposed Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, making it the latest state to consider giving nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers who work in the home expanded labor rights.

The bill would give the state’s 67,000 domestic workers the ability to file complaints of abuse or harassment with the state commission, protection from surveillance by employers, and the right to sick time, guaranteed rest periods, and either notification of termination or severance pay. It would also require employers to sign contracts with these workers that outline their duties, pay, time off, and other arrangements. It’s cosponsored by State Rep. Michael J. Moran (D) and Senator Anthony W. Petruccelli (D) and 83 other legislators have endorsed the bill.

If Massachusetts were to pass the bill, it would be the fourth state to give those who work in the home stronger labor rights, joining California, which passed its law in September, Hawaii, which passed its own in May, and New York, the first to pass such a law in 2010. Oregon’s state House passed such a bill in May but it was voted down in the Senate. Texas and Ohio are also expected to consider similar laws soon.

At the federal level, the Department of Labor took a historic step in September to expand the Fair Labor Standards Act to cover home care workers who care for the elderly and disabled, a group that had been excluded since the 1970s.

Domestic workers on the whole are paid very little and are often exposed to abusive or dangerous work conditions. About 20 percent of housekeepers and nearly a third of nannies and caregivers make less than minimum wage and nearly three-quarters overall are paid less than $13 an hour. About 20 percent report being threatened, insulted, or verbally abused in another way by their employers but have little recourse, particularly given how intimate the relationship between worker and employer can be. Half of live-in workers don’t get breaks and a quarter can’t get uninterrupted sleep. Meanwhile, just 8 percent of workers have written contracts with their employers, far more — two-thirds — relying on verbal agreements.