by Maria Svart
Domestic workers (nannies and others) in New York State could finally be on their way to winning basic labor protections. These workers, as well as agricultural workers, are largely people of color, and have always been excluded from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA was created under the Franklin Roosevelt administration as part of the New Deal, providing federal legislative protection for the right to organize to many types of workers.
After decades of laboring in isolation, particularly susceptible to exploitation because of that isolation and because the vast majority of domestic workers are immigrant women of color, these women have fought and are likely to win passage of a state law that would require paid holidays, sick days and vacation days, and overtime wages. It would require 14 days’ notice, or termination pay, before firing a domestic worker.
The New York Young Democratic Socialists (the DSA youth section) endorsed the campaign of the Domestic Workers United (DWU) several years ago, inviting a DWU leader to speak at our national conferences and a local event about women workers empowering themselves through organizing, and participated in a letter writing campaign to the state senate about the bill.
While we are ecstatic that the bill, now that it has passed both the state senate and assembly and will be reconciled and returned to both houses for a final vote, it was disturbing to see the comments elicited by a recent New York Times article. Many were the comments that called the legislation disastrous for middle class New Yorkers, yet another example of unfair government intervention in peoples’ private lives or on employers’ decisions, etc. Obviously these commentators showed a complete lack of respect for domestic workers who labor hard and with dignity in often difficult conditions.
A few people pointed out that the root of the problem is the lack of affordable childcare options for working parents in New York, but it is clear that democratic socialists have much work to do in pointing out the contradictions in our social and economic system. Capitalism creates conditions that force women to migrate to the U.S. (and other developed countries) to care for other women’s children, just in order to provide a decent life for their own children back home. It creates conditions in the U.S. that force parents to seek wage labor outside the home, rather than having social (government) support to allow them to take extended maternity or paternity leave with full wage replacement and even the option to stay home and care for children throughout their childhood. All of this in a country that claims to support “family values”! High quality, affordable child care; higher wages for all workers and an end to the gender wage gap; workplace rights for all workers, including migrant workers regardless of immigration status; these are all necessary to truly get at the root of the problem.