PI Original Steven Ross Johnson Tuesday November 27th, 2012, 8:46pm

Domestic Workers Face Many Hardships, Report Finds (VIDEO)

Labor rights advocates are hopeful the findings of a new report will help shed some light on what they describe as the unfair treatment many domestic workers experience on the job.

Labor rights advocates are hopeful the findings of a new report will help shed some light on what they describe as the unfair treatment many domestic workers experience on the job.

Local groups ARISE Chicago and the Latino Union of Chicago joined the National Domestic Workers Alliance this week in the launching of a national campaign focused on providing nannies, house cleaners and caregivers with the same set of basic workplace rights as most other workers have under federal labor laws.

According to the report, “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work”, a survey of more than 2,000 domestic workers in 14 cities throughout the U.S. found that 23 percent of workers were paid less than their state’s minimum wage requirements, while 48 percent reported not earning enough to be able to support their families.

Less than 2 percent of workers reported receiving any type of retirement or pension benefits, with only 4 percent saying they received health insurance through their employer. As many as 65 percent of those surveyed said they currently had no health insurance.

The study also found that 25 percent of live-in workers had job responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of sleep a night, with 58 percent saying they were required to work during their scheduled off-time. 

“Not all employers of domestic workers are bad,” said Beth Gutelius, a researcher at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development, which worked on the report. “But substandard working conditions experienced by domestic workers are exacerbated by the lack of employment law that covers these occupations.”

Gutelius said such conditions have led many domestic workers to experience a number of financial hardships. An estimated 60 percent reportedly spent half or more of their monthly income toward rent or a mortgage payment, with 20 percent saying they, at times, did not have enough money to buy food.

Domestic workers under federal law are not required to receive minimum wage or overtime pay and the vast majority are excluded from receiving workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Most are also banned from forming a union.

Compounding the problem for nearly half of the workers surveyed was their status as an undocumented immigrant, which according to the report made them more susceptible to workplace abuses at the hands of their employers.

“Sadly, these abuses happen when domestic workers leave their own homes and their own families to care for other homes, and they are abused and badly treated even though they bring love to their work every day,” said Digna Morales, a member of the Latino Union who worked for ten years as a live-in house cleaner in Chicago.

Morales said she was the victim of sexual harassment when her former employer propositioned her for sex after she requested a raise from the $3.35 an hour she was earning at the time. When she refused, Morales said she was quickly fired from the home, where she had been taking care of two children for several years.

Stories such as Morales’, according to ARISE Community Organizer Ania Jakubek, are what prompted a call for a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights”, which has been introduced in several state legislatures over the last few years, most notably in New York where it became law in 2010.

Under New York’s version of the Bill of Rights, domestic workers get time-and-a-half overtime pay, a day of rest every seven days, three paid days of rest a year, and are protected against incidents of sexual or racial harassment. A similar bill passed in the California state legislature this year, but was subsequently vetoed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

“In the short-term, it would give them the right to exist as a domestic worker, and recognize the work as an occupation,” Jakubek said.

Here is more from Jakubek regarding the steps groups such as ARISE are taking to improve the rights of domestic workers:

Campaign organizers in Illinois remain hopeful that a provision requiring employers to pay domestic workers the state minimum wage could be included within a proposed measure to increase the current rate of $8.25 an hour to $10.50, an issue lawmakers are expected to consider sometime during the General Assembly’s current fall veto session.


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