New York Domestic Workers Rally for Overdue Rights

By Guest Columnist Jun 25, 2009

By Christina Chen As the New York State Senate invested their considerable stock of legislative resources and wit into accomplishing such noble tasks as stealing gavels, sneaking into Capitol chambers, and going to tremendous lengths to achieve absolutely nothing during an emergency legislative session this past Tuesday, domestic workers convened at Washington Square Park to demand that legislators pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Championed as a robust national precedent to reversing the nation’s racially-charged history of excluding domestic workers from labor rights laws, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights guarantees health care, severance pay, sick days, inclusion into the state’s collective bargaining and human rights laws, and other basic protections to New York’s domestic workers. The bill has been approved by the State Assembly but is stalled in the New York State Senate, where lawmakers are struggling to broker a power-sharing agreement in the wake of a Republican-staged coup. Speakers at Tuesday’s rally included Cita Brodsky, a Filipina domestic worker and organizer with the DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association whose riveting testimony spoke to the inhumane treatment and substandard conditions faced by nannies, housekeepers, and caretakers working in isolated, individual homes. These sites lack the governmental oversight furnished upon more conspicuous work environments:

“My story is not different from the hundreds of thousands of immigrant women workers in New York State who have been at the frontlines of the global economic crisis. In 1997, my employer brought me to the US. As a domestic worker of a diplomat, my days started very early and ended late at night, especially if the family entertained or had guests over. I was a nanny, housekeeper, cook, food server, and all-around domestic worker. I was always on call even in my few hours of sleep.

In the middle of the night the child would come to me instead of the parent’s room and would ask to stay with me. I worked 7 days a week for this family for $300 a month – that’s less than 70 cents an hour. No one deserves to be treated like a slave.”

The bill holds wide-ranging implications for domestic workers everywhere: the state is host to over 200,000 domestic workers who work upwards of 10 to 16 hours per day without overtime pay, health insurance, or regular vacations. 93% of them are female, while 99% are migrants from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. If New York’s senators don’t refocus their legislative priorities and grant much-needed protections to domestic workers soon, Albany may miss its chance to set the stage for national reform.