by Elizabeth Turnbull
Following a year of dangerous working conditions for domestic workers, the Domestic Workers Standards Board (DWSB) outlined a list of improvements for the rights of domestic workers, such as better health care access and benefits.
The DWSB presented the Seattle City Council’s Housing and Finance Committee with a list of recommendations, Tuesday, May 18, for protecting the rights of domestic workers. The list included mandating portable benefits, providing more resources to domestic workers, policy changes to improve an existing ordinance protecting domestic workers, and investing in community expertise.
At the meeting Tuesday, domestic workers and organizers such as Olivia Cortez, who is an organizer at the nonprofit organization Casa Latina, spoke to the daily struggles of domestic work in general and during the COVID-19 pandemic specifically.
“Me and my colleagues continued working during the pandemic for fear of losing [our] work even with the risk of being infected with COVID-19,” Cortez said in a statement that was translated from Spanish into English. “I feel powerless that I am not able to help my colleagues. That is why I am here on behalf of all domestic workers, most of them are Women of Color and immigrants, and to tell you that it is urgent and necessary that a mechanism for affordable benefits be made mandatory.”
In 2019, Seattle passed the Domestic Workers Ordinance (DWO) which gave domestic workers minimum wage and rest and meal break rights. Since then, the DWSB, which was founded as part of Seattle’s Domestic Workers Ordinance and is made up of members appointed by the mayor and the City Council, says that too many workers are still unaware of their rights and that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities.
At the meeting, the DWSB highlighted ways the DWO needs to be refined to reach domestic workers to combat language barriers and fears over immigration status and future work, among other things. If adopted, the recommendations would mean an expansion of funding to reach domestic workers, relying more on people working in the field as experts on changes and educating employers on health benefits for their employees.
Members of the DWSB are also pushing for access to portable benefits — which are assets and benefits that can be maintained when switching jobs or leaving an employer — to be a right for domestic workers and for portable paid leave to be mandated for all domestic workers.
“I’ve heard from domestic workers who have no benefits at all; that means they go to work sick, which we know, over the last year and a half, is bad in a number of ways,” said Liz Hunter-Keller, a member of the DWSB board. “Domestic workers may take longer to get well or that something small could turn into something large and dangerous and costly. And it’s not just sick leave — I’ve heard from workers who can’t take paid time off to visit a sick family member or even attend a funeral.”
The committee is required to respond to the list by Sept. 15 of this year.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.
📸 Featured Image: Lucy Nyangasi — 26 years old — goes about her daily household work in the house of the family she works for. Image is attributed to the Solidarity Center (under a Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0 license).
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