Domestic workers - housekeepers, nannies, companions for the elderly - have long been treated differently in American law than all other laborers. This month, New York became the first state to address this fundamental unfairness by passing a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
Once signed into law, this bill would allow these workers legal redress against employers, as well as a host of benefits, like unemployment insurance. But let's face facts. Enforcement will be rare, because most domestic workers are employed off the books. An untold number are here illegally.
Instead, the real value of this bill is to set a floor beneath the terms of employment for domestic workers. Even as an informal set of standards, these rights may now act as a guide for labor negotiations over every kitchen table. The bill establishes overtime pay after eight hours, at least one day off each week, three paid vacation days after the first year and two weeks' notice of termination.
The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the State Senate and Assembly. Opponents argue that it gives labor benefits to illegal immigrants. That's nonsensical. Others say it will lead parents to rush into day care centers and away from in-home help. Also nonsense.
This bill of rights should be widely disseminated as a basis for the terms of domestic employment. And Gov. David A. Paterson, who has said he will sign it, is right to welcome this breakthrough in the recognition of these valuable workers. hN