Tuesday, October 19

Domestic workers in the Big Apple have a new shield against exploitation and employment discrimination

The cleaners, babysitters, and senior caregivers The Big Apple took a giant step forward in their decades-long struggle to overcome discrimination, racism and some vestiges of the era of slavery.

This Thursday the Municipal Council approved the amendment of the Administrative Code which broadens the definition of employer in the Human Rights law, which obliges people who hire this workforce, classified as home care, not to discriminate on the grounds of disability, race, religion, age and national origin.

In addition, it places the women who provide these services under the umbrella of the law of equity of the pregnant workers.

“Several organizations that make life in the city of New York, had years fighting for the approval of this law. It comes at an opportune moment in which we are trying to recover from the painful wounds left by the pandemic to these workers ”, the excited commented the Mexican Daniela Contreras, organizer of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA).

Daniela, 37 years old and Brooklyn resident He came to New York when he was 10 years old. His mother who recently passed away was also for decades cleaning lady. As an immigrant, domestic worker and now as an activist, she knows firsthand the “humiliations” that this workforce must face on many occasions.

“The most important thing for the organizations that fight for the rights of these women, who are mostly of color, do not speak the language well and are undocumented, is that they know that here they have rights. That they have institutions and groups that defend them. And that they must empower themselves to always fight for their dignity “, expressed Daniela.

Mexican immigrant Daniela Contreras calls on her companions to know their rights. (Photo: F. Martínez)

NY leads domestic protections

New York is once again at the forefront across the country in protecting this group of home care workers.

Already on August 31, 2010, the State Assembly had approved the country’s first bill of rights, to improve its working conditions, which guarantees its minimum wage and days off.

Now, eleven years later, New York City is moving up another notch. As the employers of less than four people They were not obliged to follow the labor laws in force against discrimination contemplated in the Human Rights provisions of the City. Now yes.

The Bill 338, voted by the Democratic majority of the City Council, had been presented since 2018 by the councilor Debi Rose de Staten Island.

“It took a long time to be approved, it will protect more than 300,000 workers from home in New York City, ”said the local lawmaker.

City Council Chairman Corey Johnson said the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear how vulnerable these workers are.

“During the height of the pandemic, there were many of these women who had no free time, that they could not stay in their houses ”, he reacted.

Stories of abuse

Indeed, many of these employees, as the activists describe, were subjected to work for families “locked up” for months by the pandemic, remaining months without going home.

“Me landlady in Manhattan He told me that if I left the house on the Sunday that it was my turn, I would not come back. Because it was a risk that I was contagious. My husband lost his job. That situation put me against the wall. I continued working for three months between April and June, lovingly caring for two children. In the end, the lady told me that she had to discount a number of things. And I ended up paying what he wanted“Said the Bolivian Dulce Paredes, 40 years old.

Others ran worst luck.

The Ecuadorian immigrant Valentina Romero, 40, says that he worked for a family in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, taking care of an elderly man. His bosses, even knowing that they were all infected, did not inform him. And she brought the virus to her home in Queens.

“They only cared that I cleaned the man and cooked for him. I was infected with them and at the same time I infected my mother who died from COVID-19 at Elmhurst Hospital last August. Finally when I couldn’t go back, they didn’t even call me to find out how I was feeling. And to date I have not been paid for three days of work because they went to live on Long Island ”, shared the immigrant.

With the impetus provided by the recent legal changes in the Big Apple, which add protections to these workers, both Sweet like Valentina they could seek legal advice and try to recover wages, without fear for their immigration status.

But beyond the stories of labor abuse that multiplied during the pandemic, the reality is that Unemployment it is what most overwhelms those who work with families permanently or for days.

A recent report from the Institute for Political Studies and the program “We Dream in Black” (WeDiB) an organization of Afro-Caribbean women working in connection with the National Alliance of Domestic Workers, estimates that the 62% of black immigrant domestic have lost all or part of their income due to COVID-19.

The trinitaria Gail Haywood, Brooklyn resident, is part of the organization ‘WeDiB‘and has been integrated into all the movements that since the pandemic broke out have sought “justice” for a labor mass made up of a 94% by women.

“We only continue fighting for an issue of Human Rights and equality, nothing extraordinary. It is an advance that we have this new law so that when the economy recovers completely, we can come back with a better position. If any sector of this pandemic has been punished, it has been ours, ”said the Caribbean woman who is unemployed.

On the other hand, for hundreds of undocumented immigrant women who do domestic work as ‘day laborers’, that is, they wait in stops for a few hours of cleaning in order to survive, the future rarely looks promising, regardless of whether new legislation is passed that protect against discrimination and oblige minimum wages, which in the case of New York is $ 15 minimum per hour.

Trinitarian Gail Haywood celebrates this legal step for equality and Human Rights (Photo: F. Martínez)

It is time to conquer fear

The Colombian Vicenta García, 42, who lost his job was forced to wait shifts for casual jobs at the bus stop Williamsburg and Brooklyn. The Barranquilla immigrant is the other face of those who do not work with the intermediation of agencies, or special recommendations.

“Families contact you informally and tell you I have $ 50 for you to work for me doing some things around the house. You end up working six hours in a day. Obviously, the legal thing is $ 90. But that is the moment when you collide head-on with the need: either you return with empty pockets, or you carry something to eat, “he said.

Vicenta’s dilemma is that of thousands who feel that they have few rights because they are in the shadows, because they do not have papers or do not master the language well.

“Sometimes they end up paying you even less than what you negotiated, because they tell you: ‘I only have this cash. But I keep calling you for other jobs. Besides, you don’t pay taxes! ‘ (taxes) ”, he points out.

For its part, Daniela Contreras from NDWA In the heat of new legal resources and new protections approved by the City Council, she understands the fears of her colleagues, but invites doubting workers to connect with existing resources and organizations in New York City.

“I suffered labor abuse, my mother was a victim of humiliation for years, but today we must understand that we have to inform ourselves and know that we have tools that protect us. Our job is a vital profession for many families. Not everyone is a babysitter not everyone knows how to take care of an older adult, there are cooks who end up being great chefs. The first thing is to value ourselves and be informed of our rights ”, the activist concluded.

After three years of marches and struggles, activists from the National Alliance of Domestic Workers celebrate this victory. (Photo: F. Martínez)

X-ray of domestic workers in NY:

  • $ 21,320 is the annual income of New York City domestic workers when the average for other workers is $ 51,250 according to a report shared by NDWA.
  • 78% of this labor force He was born outside the United States.
  • 38% are Hispanic / Latino, 27% Black (not Hispanic) and 18% Asian.
  • 1/4 of these workers They don’t even get the $ 15 minimum salary right now based on Cornell University research.
  • 2% a 3% of those surveyed in a survey of Hispanic women workers worked 31-40 hours per week during the worst of the pandemic, compared to more than 33% of additional hours before COVID-19.
  • 54% of these workers depends on public assistance programs, including Medicaid and food stamps.
  • 34% are raising minor children 18 years, including 15% who are single mothers.
  • 21% of this labor conglomerate He usually works 7 days a week, without a day off, concluded a study from the ‘City University’ in New York.
  • 50% do not receive any paid time off, whether for vacation, personal time or sick days.
  • 58% know the city’s paid safety and sick leave law, but only 21% have used it.
  • 50% of New York City domestic workers they have health coverage through Medicaid or other public programs, and another 39% have coverage through other sources.
  • 22,000 of these domestic workers approximately has no health coverage.

How do I know the protections I have?


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