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Thousands of Miami-Dade domestic workers seek equal protections in workplace

Domestic workers in Miami-Dade County held a daylong rally Saturday to demand passage of a “Domestic Worker Bill of Rights” for thousands of people who have few workplace protections under the law.
Courtesy
/
Miami Workers Center
Domestic workers recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where they were in the crowd for a rally headlined by President Joe Biden. Organizers in Miami-Dade are holding a series of event Saturday in Miami to call attention to the lack of labor protections for 60,000 domestic workers in the county.

Domestic workers in Miami-Dade County held a daylong rally Saturday to demand passage of a “Domestic Worker Bill of Rights” for thousands of people who have few workplace protections under the law.

Saturday's events called to attention challenges faced by nearly 60,000 domestic workers in the county, including wage theft, discrimination, and lack of legal protections, according to organizers. It was organized by the Miami Workers Center, WeCount! with support from the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Ermana Etienne, a domestic worker and part of the Miami Workers Center, spoke of her experience after a home agency allegedly failed to pay her wages after a client complained about her — only to have the agency re-assign her months later to the same client.

“Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I encountered such an issue, and it has made securing work even more challenging,” said Etienne in a statement. “A Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in Miami-Dade would greatly improve our lives and working conditions.”

She was among several workers "who shared their stories of exploitation during the rally held at the Miami Dade Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami.

In the U.S., domestic workers are excluded from many federal workplace protections, and the private, home-based nature of the work means abuse tends to happen behind closed doors.

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Although many domestic workers are covered under federal minimum wage and overtime laws, part-time and live-in workers are still exempt from some provisions. And domestic workers are generally excluded from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — a federal law banning workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment — since it only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Neither are domestic workers covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which aims to ensure safe and healthy conditions for workers.

Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington State, joined with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Ben Ray Luján, D- N.M, to re-introduce the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The legislation, if passed, would extend common workplace rights and protections to the nation’s estimated 2.2 million domestic workers.

“Domestic workers make all other work possible, however too often they are called essential but treated as expendable,” said Jayapal in a statement. “This landmark legislation … will finally give our domestic workers, who are primarily women of color, the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Although previous efforts to pass similar legislation have stalled in Congress, support continues to mount this time around. But there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome, according to Ai-jen Poo, president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

“It’s not uncommon for a bill of the scope and significance to take decades,” she said.

Domestic workers recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where they were in the crowd for a rally headlined by President Joe Biden.

Part of the problem is that domestic work is undervalued and often dismissed as “caregiving work that women were just expected to do out of the goodness of their hearts” rather than professional work deserving of labor protections, said Julie Vogtman, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center.

Domestic workers from across the country have taken their fight beyond Congress and straight to statehouses, where they have been instrumental in getting labor protections passed. Florida does not have such a law in effect.

Yet, even in the 11 states with laws on the books that specifically target domestic workers, those often go unenforced. Women are more likely to be assaulted at work than men. Domestic workers, who make less than half of what a typical worker makes and are disproportionately women and immigrant women — many of whom lack legal work status — are especially vulnerable to workplace exploitation, experts say.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

Sergio Bustos is WLRN's Vice President for News. He's been an editor at the Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida. Most recently, Bustos was Enterprise/Politics Editor for the USA Today Network-Florida’s 18 newsrooms. Reach him at sbustos@wlrnnews.org
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