Domestic workers in the United States have long been one of the most isolated and vulnerable groups of workers, historically excluded from labor protections.
Now, however, the city of Seattle City Council is considering one of the most progressive domestic workers bill of rights in the country, notable for its language on sexual harassment on the job.
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The proposed legislation before Seattle City Council, a domestic workers bill of rights, would protect domestic workers’ rights to a minimum wage, rights to breaks, and rights to protect their private property while on the job, regardless of contract type or employment status.
The bill of rights would also create a standards board where workers, employers, government employees, and community stakeholders could come together, set, and enforce locally informed standards for employing domestic workers with legal ramifications.
The Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance surveyed local domestic workers and found that more than half did not have written contracts, leaving them particularly susceptible to workplace violations.
Domestic workers are often invisible in the labor force and particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment due to the private and intimate nature of their work. Sexual harassment runs rampant in the domestic work industry, and often employees have nowhere to report a case of harassment without fear of losing their jobs, and in the cases of undocumented domestic workers, fear of deportation.
Seattle’s bill would essentially create a “human resources department” for domestic workers across the city, meaning any worker would have a place to go to in case of sexual harassment or abuse.
Collective bargaining for better pay is also a challenge for domestic workers as they are spread out, working in individual households and often hired informally.
Sage Wilson, a representative of Working Washington, hopes this bill can change that.
“There’s no practical way for domestic workers to engage in collective bargaining or any form of collective power when they’re individual employees in households, so establishing a place where people can build community, organize in a way that matters, and raise industry standards on things like wages and benefits, but also harassment, is really a huge deal,” Wilson said.
Seattle legislators are due to vote on the bill at the end of the summer, and local labor activists expect it to pass.
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