Friday Roundup: Seattle becomes first city to approve a domestic workers “bill of rights.” Do you agree with the legislation?

Note: Scroll to the bottom to take our Survey on Domestic Workers “Bill of Rights.”

For this week’s Friday Roundup we take a look at changes in employment policies adopted by the Seattle City Council.

Monday, July 23, Seattle adopted a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.” The Associated Press reports,

The City Council unanimously approved a so-called “bill of rights” that ensures domestic workers receive minimum wage, proper rest, meal breaks and other rights…

The ordinance would create a panel of employers and workers to come up with recommendations on wage standards, retirement and health care benefits, training and other issues. It would also prevent employers from keeping a worker’s personal documents.

The new rules, which take effect Jan. 1, would apply to those working in private homes, such as a nanny, house cleaner, home care worker, gardener or cook. It applies to independent contractors, full-time, part-time and temporary workers and hourly or salaried employees.

The city’s Office of Labor Standards links to the ordinance and writes,

On July 23, 2018, the City of Seattle City Council voted to pass a Domestic Workers Ordinance that provides protections for domestic workers and establishes a Domestic Workers Standards Board. When signed into law by Mayor Durkan, Seattle will be the first city in the United States to have a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The ordinance covers domestic workers (both employees and independent contractors) who provide paid services to an individual or household in a private home as a nanny, house cleaner, home care worker, gardener, cook, and/or household manager.

KNKX Public Radio adds this,

In addition to extending the minimum wage, the law requires workers to be given regular rest and meal breaks. 

In the case of nannies, who might not be able to take breaks while caring for children, the ordinance requires they be given extra compensation.

There are some exceptions to the ordinance. The law doesn’t, for example, cover the occasional  babysitter or family member caring for another.

As most news accounts sat, eight states have similar legislation. American City & County reports,

Eight states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Nevada — have such laws in place already, according to Bloomberg Law. However, Seattle is the first major U.S. city to pass an ordinance of this kind, and city officials said they used the domestic worker laws of these states as a model for the city’s ordinance, Curbed reports.

The legislation has been a priority of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance. The latter group wrote in advance of the vote,

The Domestic Workers Standards Board would be a breakthrough step for workers rights in Seattle and across the country — a new model of worker power being led by women and people of color who have been too long excluded from other basic legal protections.

This is a huge step forward. It’s another breakthrough victory for Working Washington members. And just like $15, secure scheduling, paid family leave, and other historic steps for workers rights, it shows how much we can accomplish when come together, speak out, and take action.

The Stand, associated with the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC) and its affiliated unions, also calls the legislation a “breakthrough,” saying,

After generations of exclusion from basic federal labor rights, domestic workers in Seattle are leading the way to a new model of worker power: the legislation creates a first-in-the-nation Domestic Workers Standards Board that includes workers, employers, and community members, and which has the power to establish binding industry standards on wages, benefits, training, and more.

In Crosscut, writer Jen Soriano argues for the legislation, saying that she believes she treats her domestic workers fairly,

And still, I feel I need help to ensure I’m complying with workplace standards and not just making up my own definition of fairness. The Domestic Workers Ordinance would provide clear guidance for those of us who employ nannies, house cleaners, caregivers or gardeners, to help us practice our values of fairness and justice, while helping to level the power dynamic that exists among workers and employers.

This is one small but critical way we can right a historical wrong, and take action against the alarming growth of income inequality in Seattle.

By passing a Seattle Domestic Workers’ Ordinance, we will be honoring the workers who make all other work possible. As the first city government domestic workers’ rights bill in the country, we would set an example for other cities to follow.

That last sentence – an example for other cities to follow – captures much of the recent employment policy legislation in Seattle, from the $15 minimum wage to paid family and sick leave to secure scheduling. Curbed Seattle reports there may be more to come,

One additional protection could come as soon as August. City Councilor Herbold plans to introduce legislation that will make it easier for domestic workers to report discrimination and sexual harassment to Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights.

And Next City writes that the Seattle legislation fell short of some advocates’ expectations.

The legislation isn’t exactly what workers campaigned for, however. Its advocates originally asked the city to require written contracts between employers and employees and create a portable benefits system, the Times reports. The new law instead created the 13-member board to advise on future regulations.

There was little reported opposition to the new regulation. When New York passed similar legislation in 2010, some concerns were raised about the effect on affordable child care. And, when California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a domestic workers bill of rights in 2012 (he signed a later bill), CBS News reported,

The California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed AB889. They argued that labor laws carve out an exception for domestic workers for a reason: providing meal breaks and uninterrupted rest periods for caretakers is impractical at best and dangerous at worst…

Brown outlined his own list of eight questions in a veto message.

They include the effect of increased costs he said could burden the disabled and elderly and their families. He also suggested the additional cost could mean fewer jobs for domestic workers and strain state regulators trying to enforce the requirements.

The Seattle legislation raises a couple of questions. 

Thank you for sharing your views with us.