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Seattle City Council Passes Domestic Workers ‘Bill of Rights’

July 24, 2018, 10:06 AM

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a domestic workers “Bill of Rights” July 23 mandating that nannies, house cleaners, personal-care workers, and others must get meal and rest breaks as well as the standard minimum wage for workers in the city.

The domestic workers ordinance extends the municipal minimum wage to domestic workers who live in their client’s home as well as those classified as independent contractors. The Seattle minimum wage will ultimately reach $15 per hour plus cost of living adjustments. Domestic workers who are employees—such as those working for an agency that contracts with a household to provide domestic services—are already covered under the existing minimum-wage ordinance.

The new ordinance also requires that domestic workers get a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal period after five hours of work, which will be unpaid unless the worker is on call. Workers also are entitled to ten-minute, paid breaks every four hours. Live-in workers cannot be required to work more than six consecutive days without 24 consecutive hours of unpaid time off. Employers also are prohibited from seizing passports and other personal documents.

Seattle is the first city in the nation to pass such a measure, Marzena Zukowska of the National Domestic Workers Alliance told Bloomberg Law ahead of the vote. Eight states have passed similar legislation: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Nevada, according to the preamble in the Seattle measure.

A Working Washington report found about half of domestic workers in Seattle surveyed did not receive overtime pay, 40 percent didn’t get paid sick days, and 85 percent did not get workers’ compensation benefits for on-the-job injuries. Working Washington is an organized labor-backed nonprofit that lead the campaigns for a $15 minimum wage first in SeaTac, Wash. and then Seattle.

A Seat at the Table

Seattle’s new law stands out as being the first to establish a Domestic Workers Standards Board tasked with recommending a broad range of new labor standards with an emphasis on portability across work assignments, including sick leave, workers compensation, and retirement benefits.

Council member Teresa Mosqueda—former political director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO—was the measure’s prime sponsor. Efforts to extend to domestic workers many of the protections and benefits already passed by the city and state for the larger workforce have been percolating in Seattle for almost 10 years, she told Bloomberg Law July 20.

“We are creating a forum for them to come to the table, have their voices heard, have their experiences validated, and truly effect policy change,” Mosqueda said. “We hope the board creates the ability for workers and hiring entities to sit at the same table and talk about how we apply labor protection that can truly be replicated in other cities and states.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan expressed support for the measure in a July 20 press release. The bill goes into effect July 2019, though the Domestic Workers Standards Board will be convened earlier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Shukovsky in Seattle at pshukovsky@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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