Ai-Jen Poo (Courtesy of Flickr)
A key leader in the movement to raise labor standards for domestic workers expects a long-awaited federal rule change to soon become law. Ai-Jen Poo, who founded and directs the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told The Nation in an interview last week that the new regulations would be “one of the most significant victories for low-wage workers of this administration.” Citing supportive comments by Vice President Joe Biden at a June event celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the confirmation of a new secretary of labor in July, Poo said she hopes to see the process completed this month.
“The different agencies have been trying to work towards finalization,” Poo told The Nation, “and that it could be a matter of days or weeks until it gets finalized is our understanding.” She called the proposed change “an investment in a twenty-first-century workforce that is only going to grow. And it is an investment in plugging the holes in our labor laws where large numbers of people who work full-time, or more than full-time, are actually working in poverty still.”
As I’ve reported, domestic workers—those doing caring and cleaning work in the home—are among the growing number of US workers excluded from many federal labor protections. NDWA estimates that the ranks of domestic workers will double to 5 million in the coming years as the “baby boomer” generation ages and increasingly turns to in-home care. Poo argues that such work is also increasingly central to understanding the larger US economy. “What is happening,” she told The Nation in April, “is that work is becoming more unstable, insecure, dangerous and vulnerable…. We’re essentially all becoming domestic workers.”
Excluded from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which promised most private sector workers the right to organize and bargain collectively with their boss, some domestic workers over the past decade have been organizing at the local and national level to transform the industry through worker mobilization, social pressure on employers and politics. Left out of many of the wage and hour protections of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, they’ve pushed statewide bills legislating a “Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights”; such legislation passed in New York in 2010, and in Hawaii this year, but was vetoed in California in 2012. (Meanwhile, some workers doing taxpayer-funded care work have attained legal collective bargaining rights as public workers following labor-backed changes to state law.)