Let's start with the questions.
Did you know that domestic work constitutes the fastest growing sector of the American economy?
Did you know that when workplace protections of the New Deal were passed in the 1930s, Southern legislators demanded that farmworkers and domestic workers *be excluded* from its guarantees of a minimum wage, overtime protections, and the right to organize and form a union?
Did you know that when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 — including Title VII, which prohibits workplace harassment and discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin — it excluded workplaces with fewer than 15 employees, which describes the working environment of almost all domestic workers?
Did you know that a few years later, in 1970, when Congress passed the Occupational Health and Safety Act establishing a worker’s right to a safe and healthy work environment, the landmark labor law left out domestic workers and farmworkers?
We didn't know these things.
We didn't know these things until the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights brought them to our attention. These are just a few of the reasons that domestic workers — who are mostly women and disproportionately women of color — need explicit protections, need a bill of rights.
Here are a few others.
Domestic work is considered "women's work". It is dismissed as unimportant. It is derided as a "pink ghetto". It is undervalued as an essential component of our economy. And it is dramatically underpaid as a result.
Women who do domestic work frequently live in poverty. Their exclusion from US labor laws helps explain why a quarter of domestic workers live in poverty, with a median hourly wage of $11.43 an hour — one of the lowest in the US — although in practice wages are often lower. There is little or no access to retirement, health, and other benefits that can reduce economic insecurity for working families. (Some creative solutions have started to emerge to provide benefits. Check out Alia.)
It is work that is often hidden; workplaces are unregistered and unregulated. Because of this, it is often dangerous work. As sociologist Jennifer Glass points out, "While men may lift heavy building materials, for example, women lift heavy patients and children in caregiving jobs. While some men face hazardous machinery or noxious chemicals, women face noxious cleaning solvents, communicable diseases, and violence in schools and other care settings."
This is what it boils down to:
"Domestic work underpins our economy. Domestic workers who work in individual homes free up the time and attention of millions of working families by caring for our children, our aging parents, our loved ones living with disabilities, and our homes. Domestic work is the work that makes other work possible." (National Domestic Workers Alliance)
This is true in Wyoming, and we're just starting to feel the economic and personal ramifications. Women make up 56% of people over 70 in our state. And they're aging into poverty due to the gender wage gap. Due to the depressed wages of the domestic work that was available to them during their working lives. (Nearly 90% of all paid caregivers in Wyoming are women.) Our domestic workers and caregivers are even more at risk due to a lack of state protections, the lowest state minimum wage in the nation, and economic and policy discussions that entirely discount the importance of these contributions.
Yet, domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible.
It is time for us to value this work. It is time for us to support the women who do this essential work. It is time for domestic workers to receive the protections they deserve. It is time for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.