Albany, NY - New York lawmakers have passed bills to require overtime pay after eight-hour workdays and at least one day off weekly for more than 200,000 housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers in the state.
Advocates say that if Gov. David Paterson signs the measures into law, New York will become the first state establishing those rights for household workers, most of whom are women and emigres and often are vulnerable to abuse.
Federal minimum wage laws already apply.
Unlike the Assembly-passed bill last year, the Senate measure that was approved 33-28 on Tuesday also guarantees a half-dozen holidays, seven sick days and five vacation days annually, all paid. Both would establish collective bargaining rights. The Senate bill also would require 14-day termination notice or pay and establish a worker’s right to sue.
Lawmakers will have to reconcile differences in the bills.
“New York has long been a leader in protecting the rights of workers. We enacted child labor laws long before the federal government did and were the first to pass labor protections for those toiling in sweatshops,” said Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. She said the legislation would not apply to casual laborers like baby sitters and occasional house cleaners. It would take effect Jan. 1.
Domestic Workers United, an advocacy group, estimated there are 200,000 such workers in New York City alone. The group said in a study that it found one-third reported verbal or physical abuse by employers, while two-thirds said they never received overtime pay.
Dozens of workers came to the Capitol on Tuesday to support the legislation. Some described employers who took advantage of them. Omatee Jagroop, who took care of an elderly woman in Queens for three years as a live-in, said she went for a year without a salary and later was often paid late and never in full. “I stayed at a job when I didn’t know there was help,” she said.
In 2007, a wealthy Long Island couple was convicted in federal court of conspiring to enslave two domestic servants brought from Indonesia by keeping their travel documents and having them perform forced labor for years with little pay.
Spokesman Morgan Hook said Paterson will review the legislation.
Sen. John Bonacic, a Middletown Republican who voted against the bill, said he found it “most offensive” that lawmakers would give rights to people who are in the United States illegally.
“I don’t need to see your green card status before I know if I’m going to treat you like a human being,” said Sen. Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat whose mother was a domestic worker. “This is a landmark piece of legislation.”
Ai-jen Poo, spokeswoman for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said a similar bill has been introduced in California and there’s interest in Colorado, and that some regulatory work was being done at the federal Labor Department to enforce existing rights.
“Minimum wage laws apply to domestic workers nationally. It’s overtime laws that domestic workers are often excluded from,” she said. That exclusion applies to those who live in their employers’ residences.
Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn, who leads the Senate Democratic Conference, said they’ve been “denied basic protections” for too long.
Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat and sponsor of the Assembly bill that passed 98-44 last year, said Tuesday he’d been working on the legislation for six years and had doubted this day would come.
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