- The problems in the domestic work industry cannot be solved one employer at a time. We need policy change to create the framework to bring domestic work into the 21st century.
- Employers have a significant role to play, by holding themselves accountable to fair labor standards.
- Domestic workers are an essential part of the solution.
The report offers a set of recommendations that could transform the working conditions of domestic workers. Action is required on several fronts:
- We must enact and enforce policies that rectify the exclusion of domestic workers from employment and labor laws. Among these protections are the right to organize, earn the minimum wage, get paid for overtime, take regular rest and meal periods, claim workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, have healthy and safe work environments, and have effective remedies for discrimination, abuse, and harassment. In addition, policies are required to assure benefits, such as paid vacation and holidays or notice of termination, that are difficult for domestic workers to negotiate with their employers. Policies are needed to address issues particular to live- in workers, such as standard hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Employers can be a significant part of the solution if they educate themselves about workers’ rights and hold themselves accountable to fair labor standards. Employers should be prepared to provide domestic workers with a contractual agreement, fair wages including overtime pay and regular pay raises, access to affordable medical care, secure retirement income, paid leave, and a safe and healthy work environment. Practicing respectful communications and keeping accurate records of hours worked can go a long way toward improving the quality of the employment relationship.
- We must create a more equitable economic environment for all low- wage workers. It is difficult to advocate for the rights of domestic workers in an economic and political environment in which the rights of low-wage workers more broadly are so badly frayed. An increase in the federal minimum wage, a strengthened safety net, paid sick and family leave, access to affordable medical care, and opportunities for career advancement for the low-wage workforce would be major steps toward improving job quality and quality of life for domestic workers. The immigrant workforce would benefit dramatically from a pathway to citizenship. Public policies that raise standards across the low-wage labor market will positively influence the lives of domestic workers.
- We also need to offer social support to families with caregiving responsibilities. Families scramble to craft individual solutions to manage the competing priorities of home, work, and family. Meeting the challenges of intergenerational care will require policy commitments to make high-quality childcare affordable and widely available, to assist families that care for elders in their homes, and to support women who struggle to balance their work and family obligations. Bold solutions will be needed to address the changing generational demographics underway, especially an increased need for home-based, long-term care for the aged.
Domestic workers are an essential part of the solution. Domestic work, though conducted in private homes, contributes substantially to the public good. Household labor is a lynchpin connecting the economics of the home and the economics of the workplace. By committing to improving domestic workers’ conditions of work, policy makers and employers – and indeed society as a whole – commit to building an economy based on dignity and care.
We have the opportunity to improve, materially and substantially, the conditions of a critical and especially vulnerable sector of our labor force. Both in the US and globally, a domestic workers’ movement for rights and respect has been steadily gaining strength. Domestic workers, through their organizing, are pointing the way forward. It is past time for both employers and policy makers to take heed.