On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, 39-0, including all Republicans who voted. Once it passes a procedural hurdle in the House and is signed by the governor, the state will be the fourth to pass a bill of rights.
The bill will guarantee the state’s 67,000 domestic workers a day off each week, breaks for meals and rest, and job-protected, unpaid maternity leave. (The Family and Medical Leave act, which guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, only applies to employers with 50 or more workers.) They will also get better protections from discrimination and sexual harassment. And they will have better knowledge of all of these rights, as employers will be required to give them notice of the rights at the start of their employment. Those who work more than 16 hours a week will also be required to be given written contracts. These provisions will mean “real bargaining and negotiation is systemically and legally required in the industry, which is very exiting,” Lydia Edwards, Massachusetts coordinator for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told ThinkProgress.
The bill now heads to the House, which already passed the exact same language in April as part of a larger package and therefore needs to give the procedural go ahead before the bill heads to Gov. Deval Patrick’s (D) desk. “We expect the House to be just fine because they already passed the exact same language,” Edwards said. “We don’t expect any hurdles, we don’t expect any amendments.” Patrick has indicated his support for the bill, particularly when former Labor Secretary Joanne Goldstein wrote a letter in favor of it as part of the official testimony in November, she said.
Edwards also pointed out that the unanimous Senate support for the bill is “testimony to the organizing that we did on the ground.” Domestic workers partnered with employers as well as the disability community to speak directly with Republican lawmakers about the bill of rights. “Those alliances…were key in getting this bill passed,” she said.
But in the rest of the states, domestic workers like nannies and housekeepers remain incredibly vulnerable. Just 8 percent have written contracts with their employers establishing the parameters of their work. That can mean their job requirements go above and beyond, and 35 percent say they are made to work long hours without any breaks. Few get leave, and of workers who were fired, a quarter say it was because they asked for time off. Meanwhile, they are at risk of other kinds of abuse, as nearly one in five say they have been threatened, insulted, or verbally abused. Yet they have little recourse: of those who say they’ve experienced problems with their working conditions, more than 90 percent didn’t complain for fear of losing their jobs.