It's difficult to know exactly how many domestic workers—housekeepers, nannies, home aides—are employed across the country. Many work on handshake agreements without contracts. Some are paid under the table.
What is clear is that domestic workers are not afforded the same protections as other workers. Under federal law, not all domestic workers are guaranteed the minimum wage. Here in Washington state, they are not guaranteed benefits like regular breaks and sick time.
Labor advocates want to change that. Tonight in Seattle, domestic workers and elected officials will kick off a campaign for a new set of protections for domestic workers.
At the headquarters of Working Washington, nannies, housecleaners, home care aides, and other workers will launch the campaign with Seattle City Council members Lorena González, Teresa Mosqueda, and Lisa Herbold. Workers and advocates are calling on Seattle to create a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that would require written contracts for domestic workers and ensure domestic workers are covered by city labor protections. A city commission including domestic workers would have the ability to "set legally-binding industry standards on wages, benefits, and working conditions," according to Working Washington.
The campaign follows similar efforts in California, New York, Illinois, and other states. According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which advocates for labor protections, most domestic workers are women and many are immigrants.
“We’re doing a job that many people can’t or won’t do,” Michelle Riggs, a 30-year-old nanny who works in Bothell and is part of the effort, said in an interview with The Stranger. Riggs says she hopes a successful campaign in Seattle could push other nearby cities to follow suit. “We’re taking pride and care of the most important thing in most people’s lives, which are their children. It’s important we get rights just like anyone else.”
Riggs said she has worked as a nanny since she was a teenager. She said she has worked without a contract and for bosses who refuse to pay overtime. At $23 an hour but without benefits, she said it can be hard to cover living expenses, especially health insurance.
If recent history is any indication, the bill of rights stands a good chance at Seattle City Hall. Working Washington is a labor advocacy group funded in part by Service Employees International Union Local 775. SEIU 775's president helped negotiate Seattle's $15 minimum wage, and Working Washington advocated for secure scheduling and unionization for rideshare drivers. Both passed the city council unanimously despite business concerns. Herbold and González, who will be at tonight's kickoff, sponsored the secure scheduling bill.
Workers involved with Working Washington have created the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance (SDWA) for this effort. Along with support from council members, they may have support from Mayor Jenny Durkan. During her recent campaign for office, Durkan said she supported creating a new body to say pay and benefits for domestic workers. According to the SDWA, Durkan also signed this pledge promising to create a domestic workers bill of rights and a commission to oversee wages and benefits within her first year in office.