Democratic lawmakers propose law to protect domestic worker rights

Proposed law would protect health, safety of domestic workers, many of whom are female immigrants

By Leona Vaughn

WNPA News Service

A measure designed to protect the health, safety, and overall well-being of domestic workers in Washington state has been sponsored by Democratic senators at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

If passed, SB 6247 would guarantee that domestic workers be paid at least minimum wage, which is $13.50 per hour according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Workers must also receive meal and rest breaks, and overtime pay, if applicable.

A written agreement between employees and employers would also be required, as well as a two-week termination notice, extended to four-weeks for live-in employees, or severance pay, according to the bill.

“This is a group of workers that too often are made invisible, but do critical work that is highly valued by families across our state,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, the bill’s primary sponsor.

“They care for our children, provide domestic services so that working moms, like me, can do our jobs in the public sphere.”

The bill defines a domestic worker as anyone who is paid hourly for doing work in residence as a nanny, cleaner, cook, gardener, or any other work related to child care or home care.

This does not include a person who provides irregular work or performs babysitting, house sitting, or pet sitting duties.

Domestic workers are mostly female immigrants, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.

Adriana Cazorla, a domestic worker, said she was sexually harassed and threatened by her employer.

“I was told that I had to do all of the house work naked in order to continue working there,” Carzola said through a translator.

“I decided that I didn’t want to do that work anymore, and he continued to threaten me, and not pay me, and, again, threatened to call immigration.”

Many who opposed the bill requested that certain workers be exempt from the language of the bill, including people who provide care for their own family members.

Several of the individuals testifying against the bill spoke on behalf of au pair programs, in particular. Au pairs are foreigners that are assigned to a host family and do domestic-related work in exchange for room and board, along with a weekly stipend.

“Being a live-in nanny is incredibly difficult, emotionally taxing work,” said Leila Reynolds, who was in support of the bill and said she had previously worked as an au pair in Germany for an American family.

“The au pair agencies are gonna be here because they can afford to be here,” Reynolds said. “The au pairs are not going to be here because it’s very difficult to stand up to your employer when you live with them.”

A worker paid minimum wage in Washington state makes $540 in a typical 40 hour week. Au pairs are typically paid $195.75 on a weekly basis, according to Au Pair in America, but don’t have to pay for room and board out of their own pockets.

Concerns were raised on the increased cost families would face if this bill passes.

“When I chose this program, I knew the modalities and how much I will be paid,” said Camille Rouxel, an au pair from France.

“If I didn’t agree with the program, I would never had come to the United States. Some forgot that the au pair program is first and foremost a cultural exchange, and we are a part of an American family.”

The bill was heard by the Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday, Jan. 27.