Our movement has made history. On August 31, 2010 Governor David A. Paterson signed the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights into law. As domestic workers organizations it is time to both take a step back to appreciate this moment, and to make a giant leap forward. First, we must understand what we won:
We won recognition. For the first time in any state, domestic workers will be included in all of the major labor laws protecting other workers. NY State has recognized that this is a workforce that deserves protections like any other. This includes: overtime pay at time and a half your regular rate of pay, a minimum of one day of rest per week, protection from discrimination and harassment and inclusion of part-time workers in disability laws.
We challenged and expanded how minimum standards are legislated. We have broken through and established a mandatory minimum of at least three paid days leave per year. No other worker receives paid leave by law in New York State. In fact, New York is an employment at will state, which means “no work, no pay,” unless you have a contract that states otherwise. Because domestic workers pushed legislators to understand the specific challenges to negotiation in the domestic setting, the legislature set a new precedent and included days off in the establishment of minimum standards for domestic workers.
We are paving the way for a new labor movement. We are forcing a debate about the existing structures for collective bargaining. Included in the bill is a mandate to the Department of Labor to study the feasibility and specific challenges to collective bargaining for domestic workers under the current state and federal labor relations laws. This is the first study of its kind, and domestic workers are helping shape the investigation through a partnership with the Department of Labor, in addition to producing our own independent study.
We -- working-class immigrant women of color -- are inspiring other workers and communities everywhere to continue organizing. Throughout the country and around the world, other low-wage workers, women and oppressed communities have been encouraged by this win to fight. We received over 170 media hits with the bill’s passage, including front page of the NY Times national section. With this victory, we have demonstrated that even in times of economic crisis and anti-immigrant sentiment, we can achieve major victories that change the course of history for working-people through organizing.
This is just the beginning. Our California affiliates have pushed a resolution through the California legislature in support of recognition and labor standards for domestic workers. This paves the way for the passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Many of you are now talking about bills in your states. In addition to that, we are moving reforms at the Department of Labor. And, internationally, we are moving a strong “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” convention at the International Labor Organization to internationally recognize the workforce and our contributions. Next year, we will be putting forward our vision for federal legislation that creates jobs, a career ladder and a path to citizenship for domestic workers.
So we must celebrate how far we have come. It was not easy. Angelica Hernandez, a member of Domestic Workers United, traveled to Albany twenty-six times during the course of the campaign; each trip to Albany is a 12-14 hour day. In addition to Domestic Workers United, members of all of the New York Domestic Workers Justice Coalition groups – Adhikaar for Human Rights, Unity Housecleaners, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers – rallied, marched, attended meetings and mobilized during the six year-long effort. The commitment and leadership of domestic workers inspired thousands to join the campaign.
And, now is the moment we must collectively take a big leap forward. We must make the most of this moment in history to organize and build real power among workers. As an alliance, we are still young. Many of our organizations are just beginning to build a membership base. There has never been a better time to build than now. With the press coverage, the story of the victory, and the track record of other organizations, we must now inspire tens of thousands of unorganized domestic workers to join our movement. We must do the difficult task of speaking to them, engaging them, bringing them to the next event or meeting, following up, and matching them with a role that will excite and involve them in building our organizations. Opportunities like this moment don’t come often – we must seize the moment.
When Governor Paterson signed the bill into law, he was surrounded by nearly 200 domestic workers and supporters; we filled two rooms in the Harlem community center where the signing took place. In his speech that morning, he said, “I am grateful to the sponsors for their extraordinary efforts to enact this landmark bill, and most of all to those domestic workers who dreamed, planned, organized and then fought for many years, until they were able to see an injustice undone.” Even the Governor knows that change happened in New York because domestic workers and the movement they built around this campaign organized to make it happen. Let us go out there and continue to grow and build this movement. In our work lies the key to deep social transformation. We can help lead the way for the working people of this country to collectively reach our human potential and realize our hopes and dreams for a better future for everyone.