Philadelphia passes law to protect domestic workers

Philadelphia City Council has unanimously passed a comprehensive bill raising the workplace standards for domestic workers. With the bill, Philadelphia becomes the largest city in America to extend such labor protections to domestic workers.

A domestic workers’ Bill of Rights
The bill gives domestic workers including nannies, housekeepers, caregivers and others the right to earn the city’s minimum wage. It also provides them with overtime pay, paid rest breaks and paid time off. In addition, it prohibits discrimination in hiring and firing of domestic workers and protects them against wage theft, sexual harassment and retaliation.

The legislation requires employers to provide domestic workers with a written contract setting out details regarding the job duties, hourly rate, weekly schedules, overtime pay, meal breaks, paid time off and manner of payment.

The bill creates a Domestic Workers Standards and Implementation Board, which will oversee the law’s execution and enforcement.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is a supporter of the bill and is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was sponsored and championed by Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sanchez. It was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Helen Gym, William Greenlee, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Cindy Bass, Cherelle Parker, Jannie Blackwell and Mark Squilla.

There are an estimated 16,000 domestic workers in Philadelphia, the majority of which are women of color. Many are undocumented immigrants. According to an analysis by University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Pilar Gonalons-Pons, the average annual income in 2016 for domestic workers in the region was $10,000.

Remedying a history of exclusion
Nannies, housekeepers and other domestic workers have long been intentionally excluded from protection by most federal and state labor laws.

When Congress passed the first federal labor laws in the 1930s as part of the New Deal, it specifically omitted protections for two groups: farmworkers and domestic workers. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, Congress again neglected to protect domestic workers because that law’s provisions only apply to employers with 15 or more employees. When the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was enacted in the 1970, domestic workers were again excluded.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which provides for minimum wage and overtime pay protections, was amended in the 1970s to finally include many domestic workers, but it still excluded nannies and live-in housekeepers.

The new Philadelphia measure largely ensures that many of the protections provided by those federal laws are finally extended to all domestic workers.
Recently, nine states—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, New Mexico and Oregon— have passed legislation providing protections for domestic workers. Seattle was previously the only city to do so.

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