NYC Domestic Workers’ Struggle Goes National

The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) helped Silvia Reyes, an immigrant woman who works as a nanny, understand her rights as a worker. (Photo courtesy of NDWA via El Diario)

When Fanny Martínez first arrived in New York 20 years ago, she worked for less than minimum wage. (…) Her day began at 5:00 in the morning and ended after 11:00 at night. According to her, the only way to survive was to split her day between different cleaning locations, including private homes and gyms, and caring for children and seniors. Still, she had no stability.

Lacking knowledge and having no connections, Martínez never complained. Not even the day an employer forced her to clean the floor on her knees in a Jackson Heights home.

“I was done cleaning, but she did not think it was enough, so she told me to get on my knees so she could be satisfied,” said Martínez, born in Colombia. Like most domestic workers, her employers have never offered her a contract, let alone any benefits.

Camila López, who came to New York from her native Honduras in 1990 with her three children, endured sexual harassment and racial discrimination on several occasions. (…)

“The truth is that it was very hard because I did not speak much English back then, and fear had me paralyzed,” she said. “I hope they do something to make our jobs just as dignified as other people’s.”

Neither of the two workers filed complaints or asked for better working conditions for fear of losing their jobs. Still, the New York State Department of Labor’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights addresses those situations.

(…) The law, which protects documented and undocumented workers equally, states that they must receive three paid rest days every year after working for the same employer for a year. This is in addition to the protection offered by the state’s Human Rights Law, which grants workers suffering from sexual or racial harassment the right to file a special course of action.

Thanks to the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), Silvia Reyes, an immigrant woman who works as a nanny in New York, was able to find help understanding her rights as a domestic worker. (…)

“This gives me the chance to raise my voice and denounce any abuse, and I know that my voice will be heard,” said Reyes. “Thanks to the bill of rights, I have been able to take time to care for my health by asking for a sick day or a rest day. It is a luxury I had not been able to enjoy for years.”

However, there is still no consensus at a national level about the importance of offering these rights to all domestic workers. That is why the alliance, alongside Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, has announced that it will introduce a new bill aiming to improve the quality of life of these workers and transform the way they work.

The first national Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which will be officially introduced in Congress next year, will provide basic labor protections to more than 2 million nannies, cleaning staff and health aides across the country.

“The work of domestic workers is so incredibly important, both as caregivers and as organizers. This is the work that our economy is built on, yet too often, it’s undervalued and underappreciated,” said Sen. Harris. “(…) By fighting for fairness and equal treatment, we are fighting for the best of who we are as a country.”

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