A group of domestic workers visited City Hall not to clean, but to ask lawmakers to help clean up a mess: the abuse and exploitation many of them face from employers.
New Haven’s lawmakers heard their story and took up the cause.
The domestic workers testified before the Human Services Committee of the Board of Alders at City Hall this past Thursday night. The committee voted unanimously to support a resolution that will put New Haven on record as backing a state proposal, sponsored by New Haven State Sen. Gary Winfield, to offer domestic workers labor protections, sick days, and workers’ compensation.
Maria Lima told the alders she moved to Connecticut eight years ago with dreams of providing a better life for her two children. She ended up with a nightmare of a job cleaning houses.
“I was exploited as a domestic worker,” the 44-year-old from Brazil said. “I earned $4, $3, or even $2.80 an hour for working all day without a meal break.”
“I was told because I was undocumented, illiterate, no one would listen me,” Vargas said to the committee in Spanish, with the help of an English speaking interpreter. Vargas is now suing her former employer. (Read about her lawsuit here.)
A woman named Mitsu testified before the committee that as a certified nursing assistant she had been kicked, spit on and punched. She complained to her employers, showed them the scratches on her arms. “They just tell you to file a report, but they never do anything about it,” she said. “But if it is a nurse getting abused, then something is done because nurses have more power.”
Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center Inc., noted domestic workers are left out of the protections that most working people now take for granted such as the right to a break during the work day, time off, overtime pay and protection from sexual harassment.
She said it is not uncommon for domestic workers to be “marginalized, exploited, abused and invisible.”
“For 15 years, I was a domestic worker,” she said. “I know what I’m talking about.”
Nicole Hallett, an associate research scholar at Yale Law School, said that lack of protections for domestic workers—people who clean, nannies, nursing assistants who care for elderly and those with disabilities, live-in help—is rooted in decades old discrimination against African Americans, who did such jobs almost exclusively for many years. Today, the population of people who do such jobs is largely immigrant.
The fight for domestic workers’ protections has existed for years because the lack of protections leave domestic workers vulnerable to many abuses such as wage theft and even sexual harassment, she said, especially if they live in the home of their employer. “Workers who live in the homes are the least protected,” she said. “All low wage workers are vulnerable, but domestic workers are particularly vulnerable because they’re isolated in homes.”
Bella Vista Alder Barbara Constantinope (pictured at left in the photo) said the testimony made her “truly sad. I feel heartbroken. You can’t get sick, you don’t get paid properly. How do you live?” Fair Haven Alder Santiago Berrios Bones (pictured at right in the photo) called the testimony eye-opening.
Upper Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. (pictured), who sponsored the resolution, made a point to thank all of the workers who testified specifically for their courage in sharing publicly how they had been mistreated and exploited. He said he decided to champion the city’s support of a bill of rights for domestic workers because first and foremost he was raised by parents who were staunch union workers who believed “that people should be paid fairly,” and because New Haven has been at the forefront of such important issues and needs to stay there. If the full Board of Alders passes the non-binding resolution it will be communicated to the General Assembly in Hartford, where State Sen. Winfield has for years promoted domestic workers’ rights legislation.
Winfield said Monday that after the bill stalled in previous years, he succeeded in getting a task force named to study the issue and recommend legislation. That task force is meeting Monday. Meanwhile, Winfield became the co-chair of the legislature’s Labor Committee, which took up a new version of the bill this session. He said the bill will incorporate some of the task force’s recommendations as they emerge.
City Rallies For Domestic Workers Rights
| APR 14, 2015 8:08 AM
With a few quick flourishes,
Mayor Toni Harp signed off on a
city resolution that urges the
state to pass laws protecting its
40,000 domestic workers.
She was joined in City Hall by four domestic workers, their advocates, and Alders Darryl Brackeen, Richard Furlow and Andrea Jackson-Brooks, who drafted and supported the Board of Alders Resolution. The resolution will head next to the Connecticut General Assembly, urging delegates to pass laws that offer domestic workers labor protection, sick days and workers’ compensation.
After domestic workers testified before the Human Services Committee of the Board of Alders in early March, the committee voted to support the proposal. Though politicians have been working on this issue for years, this is the first time that a “major city like New Haven had these discussions and passed these types of resolutions” in Connecticut, Brackeen said. “It’s a big deal.”
As baby boomers continue to age, domestic workers will be more and more in demand, Mayor Harp said, and should have access to legal protection. They are an “essential part of the aging equation,” she said.
Connecticut would be the fifth
state to pass a domestic worker
bill of rights, after
Massachusetts, New York,
Hawaii and California. “Slavery
is over and we have to make
sure that is reflected in our labor
laws,” said Natalicia Tracy, the
executive director of the
Brazilian Workers’ Center.
Domestic workers, largely low-income, immigrant women of color, are having trouble providing for their families, while they “help us with our daily issues,” Tracy said.