by Moses Apsan
The comprehensive immigration reform may be stalled in Congress, but if the New York Senate has its way over 200,000 domestic workers, many illegal immigrants will be granted basic workplace guarantees that have eluded them for decades.
On June 3rd, the New York Senate passed a bill of rights for domestic workers that would require employers to offer New York's household workers paid holidays, overtime pay and sick days. Under the legislation, employers would have to give two weeks' notice before firing a nanny, a protection most American workers have enjoyed since Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1937.
If signed, the bill, which is now on Gov. David Paterson’s desk, could become the first law in the nation to provide protection for all domestic workers: legal and illegal residents.
Supporters applaud the bill as it will provide needed relief to thousands of women and men who help raise the children of wealthier New Yorkers, without any legal workplace rights more than the federal minimum wage.
Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization of Caribbean, Latina, and African housekeepers and caregivers called the measure "a huge step forward in reversing the long history of exclusion that domestic workers face." Her organization has been lobbying for the legislation for six years.
"I don't need to see your green card status before I know if I'm going to treat you like a human being," Democratic state Sen. Eric Adams commented to the Associated Press. Adams, whose mother was a domestic worker, called the bill a "landmark piece of legislation."
Republicans opposed the bill unsuccessfully. Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza voted against the bill. In a statement to the New York Times he said that he worried mothers would be discouraged to report cases of suspected abuse among nannies. "I just think that's wrong when it comes to a parent-child situation in a person's home," he said.
Other advocacy groups are trying to get similar legal protections in states where there are large numbers of nannies, such as Colorado and California.
Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright of Harlem sponsored a similar measure in Albany last year; which stalled however, the Assembly bill did not require paid vacations, paid holidays or severance pay. It is expected that Gov. Paterson will reconcile the two versions.