McDonald's has come under fire lately for cheating workers out of wages they were owed, and this is just the latest example of the spotlight being shined on the bad treatment of workers by some of America's biggest employers.
But an advocacy campaign in Connecticut is bringing attention to another troubled workplace: the private home. A bill pending in that state's General Assembly would establish a task force to study the working conditions of domestic workers in Connecticut. This is a great idea, because private homes now rank as the least regulated workplaces in the nation, with many domestic workers excluded from standard employment protections around wages and discrimination. Not enough is known about how workers are treated in these situations, but what we do know is not encouraging, with evidence surfacing all the time that nannies, home care workers, and others are mistreated in various ways by their employers. A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project, found that workers in private households have it pretty bad: 41.5 percent of workers were paid below the minimum wage; 88.6 percent weren't paid required overtime, and 82.6 percent weren't paid for work they did before or after their official shift.
Take somebody like Carla Goyes. According to a recent op-ed in the Hartford Courant
by two worker advocates:
Ms. Goyes worked upward of 55 hours a week, often staying on the job overnight for no extra pay. She soon added housekeeping, cooking and chauffeuring to her child care duties. When Ms. Goyes, herself a mother, asked for a contract defining her job responsibilities and hours, her employer fired her.
There are 40,000 domestic workers in Connecticut, and many have few of the basic labor protections other workers take for granted. As I have explained in this space before, U.S. labor protections were specifically designed in the middle of the 20th century to appease racist legislators who couldn't stomach the idea of granting rights to African-American household help. A great many domestic workers are still people of color, and it's remarkable that they have remained excluded from basic rights for so long.
The Obama administration has taken some steps to expand labor protections to household workers, and this fight is also playing out at the state level, where big strides are being made. New York was the first state to pass a domestic workers bill of rights, in 2010. And as of January 1 of this year, domestic workers have new rights and protections in California thanks to a bill signed into law
Victories have also been achieved in several other states, and while this campaign hasn't attracted nearly the attention of strikes and protests aimed at low-wage employers like Walmart, it's really important given the size of the domestic work force and how routinely these workers are deprived of basic labor rights.
Policing work in private households is only going to become more imperative as the Baby Boomers retire, and there's an explosion in the number of home health aides working with seniors. It's critical for laws to get ahead of the demographic curve here, not just in Connecticut, but across the nation.