Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights Hearing at Massachusetts State House Massachusetts nannies, housecleaners, domestic workers visit State House in Boston to push for 'bill of rights'
Domestic workers testify before the Joint Labor and Workforce Development Committee at a hearing on a Domestic Workers' Bill of rights on Nov. 12, 2013. (Shira Schoenberg)
Shira Schoenberg, The Republican By Shira Schoenberg, The Republican
on November 12, 2013 at 2:20 PM, updated November 12, 2013 at 6:30 PM
BOSTON -- Domestic workers and their allies crowded a State House hearing on Tuesday to push for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
Nearly 100 people attended the hearing, most wearing stickers from the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers. Many were women, and many were immigrants. Speaking to the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, they told stories of abuse, long hours, low pay and a lack of respect afforded to nannies and housecleaners.
Sonia Soares, of Lynn, has worked for 28 years cleaning homes, cooking, doing laundry and caring for elderly parents. “My colleagues and I clean up to 14 houses a day and still struggle to make ends meet,” Soares testified. “I personally have been slapped in the face, pushed, yelled at and sexually harassed.”
Soares said customers made her clean their floors on her hands and knees, and one customer kicked her. “I come here today because I am looking for guidance on how to continue to value myself and my work,” she said.
Domestic workers include housekeepers, nannies, elder care workers or others hired to work in the home. The Coalition for Domestic Workers, a group of five immigrant and women’s organizations spearheading the legislative campaign, estimates that there are 67,000 domestic workers in Massachusetts.
House Bill 1750 and Senate Bill 882 would create a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.” Monica Halas, an employment law attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, who represents the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers, said the most significant provisions are those requiring a written contract for employees who work more than two days a week in a home, and those making domestic workers subject to Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws, protecting them from sexual or other harassment.
The bills would also require employers to give domestic workers paid sick time and time off. The bill would require employers to provide one hour of job-protected sick time for every 30 hours worked and five paid days off after a year of full-time service.
Some of the protections are unique to the circumstances of nannies or housekeepers who often live with employers and are expected to work long hours. The bill would require employers to provide one day off a week for an employee who works at least 40 hours. It requires employers to give workers eight hours to sleep while working a 24-hour shift. It requires that any payments made by the employee for lodging, food or drink are made voluntarily and are “reasonable.”
It says an employer may not tape an employee without their consent, although the coalition does support an amendment that would allow so-called “nanny cams,” while leaving in place restrictions on filming in a nanny’s living quarters. It would require two weeks’ notice when an employee is fired without cause.
The bills are sponsored by Sen. Anthoni Petruccelli, an East Boston Democrat, and Rep. Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat. They have 83 co-sponsors between the State House and Senate – including the two chairs of the Labor and Workforce Development committee, Sen. Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, and Rep. Thomas Conroy, a Wayland Democrat. The committee did not vote on Tuesday.
No one voiced opposition to the bills at the hearing, and Halas said the coalition has been working with employers and lawmakers to reach consensus on it. New York, Hawaii and California have all passed similar bills.
At the hearing, several workers talked in personal terms about their experiences. Paola Garcia said she worked for five years as a live-in nanny. She worked from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., with her only time off from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. When she had a root canal that got infected, she was unable to take time off. “Working that many hours for so many years without a full day of rest in the week, or the right to go see a doctor when you need it, is wrong,” Garcia said.
Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center, said she came to Boston to be a nanny, and the family abused her, forcing her to work 80 to 90 hours a week doing cooking, cleaning and childcare while sleeping on a glassed-in porch with a concrete floor. They paid her $25 a week and denied her contact with her family.
In 2011, Massachusetts established a trafficking law that makes experiences like Tracy’s illegal, but the bill would institute civil laws to regulate domestic worker relationships. “This bill provides civil remedies to address this evil,” Tracy said.
Jennifer Russo, a counselor at the Boston Nanny Centre in Newton, which places nannies around Massachusetts, said many of the best relationships come when there is a written contract between employer and employee. She said the bill would address many of the issues facing domestic workers - being paid fairly, having time off for medical appointments, a right to privacy and protection from sexual harassment.
Though domestic workers are subject to minimum wage laws, Halas said work time is often not defined or recorded, and pay can be eroded by charges for food and lodging. A study by the National Domestic Worker Alliance of domestic workers in 14 communities, including the Boston area, found that 23 percent of workers surveyed, and 67 percent of live-in workers, were paid less than the state minimum wage.
Several employers testified about the importance of domestic workers. Susan Reverby, professor of women’s and gender studies at Wellesley College, said domestic workers helped three generations of her family. “We all gain when the work done in our homes is recognized for its social and economic importance and the workers who do it are provided with the legal protections that guarantee their rights,” Riverby said.
A number of union representatives supported the bill, including representatives of SEIU 1199, which represents personal care attendants, and Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. (Personal care attendants who are paid by the state through MassHealth would not be covered by many provisions of the bill because they are already unionized and receive protections.)
Tolman said although domestic workers are not unionized, the AFL-CIO has made the bill a priority. “Of the more than 67,000 domestic workers in Massachusetts, too many do suffer abuse, exploitation, harassment, discrimination and dehumanizing treatment that would sap the dignity out of even the proudest and strongest among us,” Tolman said in prepared testimony.
Committee Chairman Rep. Thomas Conroy called the tales of abuse “horrendous.”
“Certainly, any efforts I can make, we can make together, to end those kind of abuses is a good and worthy cause,” Conroy said. Conroy questioned whether there is a need for a state ombudsman who could set up standards and best practices for contracts for domestic workers.
This story has been corrected that the earned sick time is job-protected but not paid.
© 2014 masslive.com. All rights reserved.