They take care of children and the elderly and are trusted to clean homes, but domestic workers are not protected by Connecticut labor laws most of us take for granted.
Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center, said domestic workers have been excluded from Connecticut’s labor laws for 75 years. But she hopes that’s about to change.
The legislature is debating a bill that would afford these workers some basic rights. The bill would require them to be paid minimum wage. It would also require them to get paid for all the hours they work and protect them from discrimination and harassment.
“Domestic workers should have the rights of all other workers,” Tracy said Tuesday at a rally on the steps of the state Capitol.
Tracy said domestic workers are especially vulnerable to harassment because they often work alone in the home of the person who employs them.
“Can you think of anything more important in society than caring for our own family?” Tracy said. “And why should the workers who make it possible for everyone else to go out to the workplace, for everyone else to work, not be protected themselves? That’s not okay.”
Tracy is hoping to make Connecticut the fifth state to bestow these protections to domestic workers. A similar law went into effect in Massachusetts on April 1. New York, Hawaii, and California already have similar laws.
There are currently 42,000 domestic workers in Connecticut, according to U.S. Census data.
Joanna Vincent with the Yale Legislative Advocacy Clinic said they aren’t asking for much. They are asking for the minimum wage and protection from discrimination and harassment.
“It’s quite hard to believe that in this day and age we’re still fighting for these two basic conditions,” Vincent said.
She said these workers need protection from retaliation if they mention to their employer the cleaning products are too harsh and the right to negotiate a substitute cleaning product. She said the legislation would also give them the right to some minimal notice of termination so they can prepare for their future.
The bill is currently on the Senate calendar.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp signed a resolution Monday encouraging passage of the legislation.
“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 said Monday at the bill signing.