Flanked by over 20 workers’ rights activists, Mayor Toni Harp signed a resolution in support of a state Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights Monday afternoon at City Hall.
Domestic workers, whose responsibilities range from cleaning to housekeeping to childcare, are currently excluded from Connecticut’s anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws. The DWBOR, which received support from the Board of Alders at a Feb. 26 hearing, would remove this exclusion and also grant domestic workers basic protections, including minimum wage entitlement, termination provisions and restrictions on maximum working hours. Advocates hope to pass the bill by early June, which marks the end of this year’s legislative cycle.
“In 2015, many domestic workers are immigrant women who have had few options, with language and cultural barriers preventing equal footing with employers,” Harp said at the event. “The resolution signed today underscores our unified determination here in New Haven to have our legislators in Hartford act to protect the basic workers’ rights of domestic workers.”
Harp’s support of the bill is especially significant given the high density of domestic workers in New Haven, Joanna Vincent LAW ’15, a student who works at Yale’s Legislative Advocacy Clinic, said. Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen said this is the first time that the Harp administration was addressing the issues surrounding domestic workers.
Harp also stressed the growing role of domestic workers in the American economy, given that the baby boomer population is now aging and the need for assistance in the household is increasing.
Vincent said the resolution is likely to hold sway among Connecticut’s legislators.
“This is the extra nudge we need to pass the bill by the end of the legislative cycle,” said Vincent. “There is no cogent justification for the bill not to pass.”
The Legislative Advocacy Clinic represents the Brazilian Immigrant Center branch in Bridgeport, which was well represented at the event.
Iame Manucci, campaign manager of the DWBOR, echoed her sentiment, adding that only “political complacency” would prevent the bill from passing. She acknowledged, however, that the bill would receive opposition from private companies who benefit from the “exploitation” of domestic workers. The hearing in front of the Board of Alders came in the wake of five domestic workers suing a house cleaning company, Auntie Bella, for alleged wage theft.
The DWBOR — proposed by The Connecticut Domestic Worker’s Taskforce — has garnered support from organizations including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, JUNTA for Progressive Action and New Haven Legal Assistance. If the bill is successful, Connecticut will become the fifth state to pass a DWBOR, according to Manucci.
Several of the domestic workers present at the event shared their stories of mistreatment in the workplace.
“I worked for four years in a variety of jobs,” said Maria Lima Rodriguez. “I was paid as low as $2.80 an hour. 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. all week. Meal breaks? No chance.”
Nina Siqueira talked about her daughter, who came to America as an au pair, through a translator. She said she was fired without notice and left “homeless, alone and unable to support herself.”
Manucci herself was 10 years old when she moved to the U.S. Her mother worked as a housecleaner, but her employers extended her job duties far beyond her pay. She worked without meal breaks, Manucci said, and her body broke down under the physical toll.
Manucci said domestic workers are especially vulnerable to wage theft given that a significant number of them are undocumented immigrants. Vincent voiced her agreement, adding that many undocumented domestic workers are afraid to speak out against their mistreatment.
Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center, said the plight that domestic workers face creates a cycle of poverty that must be fixed.
“Most of the time, a domestic worker can’t even provide for her own family, her children and herself,” said Tracy. “This creates a cycle of poverty … it is our moral obligation to change the culture and to treat all workers with respect and dignity.”
The National Domestic Workers’ Alliance estimates that there are 42,000 domestic workers in Connecticut.