Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese George speaks at a protest on March 14 at the John A. Wilson Building in support of Councilmember Elissa Silverman’s bill to expand labor protections to more than 9,000 domestic workers who work in the District of Columbia. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

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The D.C. Council is considering a bill that would expand the rights of domestic workers including formalizing work arrangements and benefits.

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) has introduced “The Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022” that would require anyone hiring a domestic worker in the District for more than five hours to provide the employee a written contract establishing their hours, pay, duties and other specifics about the work being performed. The legislation would end the carve-out of domestic workers from two key laws in the District: the D.C. Human Rights Act, which offers protection against workplace discrimination, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act which ensures workplace safety provisions apply to homes where domestic work takes place.

Silverman’s bill would apply to the more than 9,000 domestic workers in the District, many of whom are women of color and immigrants. Domestic workers in the District constitute home caregivers (41%, agency and nonagency), nannies (24%), house cleaners (19%), and others (15%). Joining Silverman in introducing the legislation is Councilmembers Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).

Silverman said her legislation is long overdue.

“It is amazing that this bill needs to be filed and implemented,” she said Tuesday at a news conference in front of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest with supporters of the legislation. “Domestic workers in D.C. are excluded from basic worker protections because their workplace is in a private home. These women perform difficult work for not high pay. They need clear wages and clear work schedules.”

George, who attended the news conference with her colleagues Allen and Henderson, said the plight of the city’s domestic workers reminds her of the work of one of her ancestors.

“My great grandmother was a domestic here,” George said. “She cleaned hotel rooms and took care of wealthy residents’ families. She had no labor protections. What she did was the result of the legacy of slavery and indentured servitude. Domestic workers lack union protections. This is a women’s, racial, economic justice, civil rights, and immigrants’ rights issue.”

Altagracia Kubinyi is an activist with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), an organization that has worked for years to get the council to pass legislation similar to Silverman’s. Kubinyi said as a domestic worker, employers would take advantage of her.

“They would be happy to hire me but refused to provide me with a contract,” Kubinyi said. “There was a lack of professionalism by my employers when dealing with me. The present laws provided me little protection to me. I could not protest any mistreatment because I wasn’t covered by the city’s Human Rights law. Even when I found a good family to work for they still didn’t provide me a written contract.”

Kubinyi said she joined the NDWA to support the rights of her colleagues and likes the progress that has been made.

“We are essential workers in the lives of the families we work for and in the city,” she said.

James Wright photo

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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