[Update 8/1: As many know, we’ve been creating noise around this campaign for some time in an effort to bring communities together and move our industry forward in a positive manner. Reach out to us with your comments, suggestions, grievances and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome collaboration!]
What’s the noise about?
The volume of online chatter has been increasing around the public commentary on domestic workers, who do not have the same rights as other workers. The recently passed domestic worker’s ordinance (DWO) in Seattle aims to address that. It’s a lot less scary than it sounds.
From what we are hearing, nannies fear an identity crisis. They are concerned that the definition of their work will be watered down, thrown in with “all domestic laborers.” The good news is they need not worry about misclassification, as the nannies themselves will be allowed to participate in the rule making process. This is a big deal because it is totally unprecedented.
As for employers, they are wondering how they will accommodate the impossible – like offering a lunch break when there is no one to relieve their only employee. For the Seattle DWO, employers do have a voice, as they will also be participating in the ongoing rule making process. Given this is one of the most attention grabbing elements of the ordinance, it’s helpful to know the details.
The Seattle city council has also expressed concern for the unintended consequences of driving down affordability for households who already struggle to hire domestic workers. Keep in mind that the main intention is to insure the minimum wage law simply extends to home workers. Many recent studies have been making headlines for stating that minimum wage jobs make livability for Seattleites wholly unsustainable, so a minimum wage for this labor pool is a good place to start.
Regardless of where you stand on the ordinance, one thing is for certain. Change is coming, and already has to eight other states including Oregon, Illinois, and Nevada. They have laid the groundwork for basic protections for domestic workers, in recognition of this historically left out segment of the labor pool.
In Seattle, employers and workers have come together for over a year in an effort to learn from these states who have implemented worker protections for domestic employees. Their voices have been heard in stakeholder meetings, forums, rallies and public community hearings. Now the real work begins as the board comes together.
Nationwide low unemployment rates are forcing the issue as nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers are eyeing professions that offer more in the way of benefits and pay. When you can’t afford to stay in a profession you will be driven to pastures greener, or you will stay and fight because you love what you do.
What does it mean?
The bottom line is that basic protections offered to other workers now partially extend to the 30,000 or so nannies, gardeners, home health workers, and housekeepers in Seattle. The law will grant the right to minimum wage, a rest break if the worker puts in a full day (or pay for this time if it’s not possible to take a break, see this link for more info), and the right to one day off per week. Oh, and an employer is no longer allowed to confiscate the passport of their employees. That’s it.
Now it’s time to find worker and employer representatives from the industry to have a seat at the table and work together in creating higher standards around health care, written contracts, free trainings and certification, paid sick leave, workers compensation, and the list goes on.
This will unfold over the course of several years with the help of community volunteers working closely with the Office of Labor Standards. Organizing, education, and outreach will be key to its success and we will continue to be a resource for both parent employers and home workers who seek a sounding board.
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