PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday April 12th, 2016, 4:43pm

Domestic Workers, LGBT Community To Lobby For Legislative Proposals In Springfield

Progress Illinois looks at advocacy efforts around state bills important for domestic workers and the LGBT community. 

Domestic workers and members of the LGBT community are among the Illinois advocates who will be in Springfield Wednesday to rally support for pending state legislation.

Advocates will push for state measures seeking to extend labor protections to domestic workers and modernize the process for transgender people to obtain birth certificates matching their lived gender.

A bill meant to ensure that domestic workers are paid no less than the minimum wage, receive at least one day off a week and have protections against sexual harassment could go up for a Senate vote as early as Wednesday, according to organizers with the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition.

Coalition members -- including representatives from Arise Chicago, Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE), the Latino Union and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) -- will be at the state Capitol Wednesday to lobby for Senate passage of the "Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Act." The bill, HB 1288, cleared the Illinois House last May.

"Our hope is that the bill is called for a vote tomorrow by the Senate," said James Povijua, the NDWA's campaign director for the Illinois Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. "We feel like we're very close to being able to pass this out of the Senate. ... I think that most lawmakers agree that this is a very common sense and straightforward piece of legislation, and that it will right a historic wrong for domestic workers who've been excluded from basic labor protections, basic employment protections, for years."

Under the proposed "Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Act," domestic workers in Illinois such as nannies, house cleaners and caregivers would be covered under the state's Minimum Wage Law, the Wages of Women and Minors Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and provisions of the Human Rights Act.

State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) and Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) are the legislation's chief sponsors in their respective chambers.

Povijua said the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Act is important because it "elevates the work of this profession and improves quality of services for working families."

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have already passed similar legislation for a domestic workers' bill of rights. A version of the proposal was first introduced in Illinois back in February 2013.

There are an estimated 35,000 domestic workers in Illinois, according to figures from the state's Labor Department. Povijua said it is common for domestic workers to be paid a flat rate per day, which oftentimes translates into hourly earnings less than the state's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

Magdalena Zylinska, a house cleaner in Chicago, will be rallying in Springfield Wednesday with other domestic workers who are "fighting for respect" and "to be valued."

Zylinska, who helps organize domestic workers with the group Arise Chicago, said it is typical for caregivers and live-in nannies to work seven days a week "because it's so hard to find a replacement for the day." She said domestic workers rarely get paid sick or vacation days.

"We are people too, and we have families. We have bills to pay," she said. "We need the money, but we also need time off of work."

Also heading to Springfield Wednesday are representatives from Equality Illinois, the LGBT rights advocacy organization. The group and its allies are planning a day of advocacy at the Capitol to lobby for and against several bills that would impact the LGBT community. They will also call for a resolution to the long-running state budget impasse, now in its tenth month.

A key bill backed by Equality Illinois is HB 6073. The legislation, introduced by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), is awaiting action in the House after passing in committee last week. It would eliminate the state's current requirement that transgender people in Illinois provide proof of transition-related surgery in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

"We anticipate there being discussion on this bill most likely next week," said Patty Medairy, director of field operations at Equality Illinois.

Eleven other states and Washington, D.C. have already dropped proof-of-surgery rules for changing gender markers on birth certificates. Additionally, the federal government does not require proof of surgery to change gender designations on passports, consular reports of birth abroad, green cards, naturalization certificates and Social Security records.

"We want to update the Illinois statute to be in line with the federal statute," Medairy said.

LGBT advocates plan to speak out against a second proposal, HB 4474.

Under the measure, proposed by state Rep. Thomas Morrison (R-Palatine), Illinois schools would have to designate their locker rooms, restrooms and similar facilities "for the exclusive use of pupils of only one sex." The bill, currently pending in the House Rules Committee, would effectively bar transgender students from using school facilities that match their gender identity. Schools would have to provide "reasonable accommodations," including access to private facilities, to students who request them.

Morrison's legislation came after Palatine Township High School District 211 and the U.S. Education Department reached an agreement in December to provide a transgender student with access to a gender-appropriate locker room. The two sides reached the agreement after the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights determined that the district had violated Title IX by denying the student access to a gender-appropriate locker room and instead providing her with a separate changing room.

"It's reasonable, it's rational, it's common sense to separate these restrooms and locker rooms, these most intimate of spaces, by an individual's anatomy rather than by one's gender identity, "Morrison has said while discussing his proposed legislation.

LGBT advocates disagree.

The bill, Medairy said, would "force transgender students to use separate school facilities from their peers and would kind of write that discrimination into Illinois law."

North Carolina is currently in the spotlight for implementing its own controversial bathroom measure as part of a sweeping anti-LGBT bill recently enacted in the state. The North Carolina law requires individuals to use restrooms in public buildings according to the biological sex listed on their birth certificates, essentially regulating which facilities transgender people can access. The law has triggered public backlash, including from the business community, with some companies, including PayPal and Deutsche Bank opting against expansion plans in the state. Additionally, the state's governor has signed an executive order walking back some of the controversial bill's provisions by including gay and transgender people in civil rights protections. Gov. Pat McCrory is also looking to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination and said he is looking into ways to tweak the bathroom law in some capacity.

Mississippi is another state under fire for a new anti-LGBT law. Mississippi's "religious liberty" measure, signed into law last week, protects businesses, individuals, and religious group that deny services to LGBT people because of a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."

Medairy spoke to the anti-LGBT legislation some states are enacting.

"Our organization, and organizations like ours, are working really hard to share information with our legislators about the negativity and unforeseen drawbacks of some of these anti-LGBT bills, and doing that in (a) proactive way before we see really widespread movement on any of these bills that, we think, would negatively affect our community," she said.

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