Domestic Workers Say They Need Legal Protection


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Robert Held

 Imagine working a job with no benefits, long hours, and no guaranteed time for breaks or vacation. That’s the situation many domestic worker say they encounter all  too often, prompting them to ask Connecticut’s legislature to pass a Bill of Rights for domestic workers.
Some  shared their stories at a public hearing held in  Bridgeport last week on the proposed bill, which they say would help protect workers like themselves and Rosemary Muthala, a former nanny for a family in Hamden. Muthala recently filed lawsuit claiming that she cared for the couple’s three children up to 100 hours a week and made less than $1 an hour.
In a prepared statement Muthala said, “It’s very sad, the way they treated me. The people that I was working for did not treat me the way I deserve. I’m happy that I am able to file this case and will be able to get the money that I was owed.”
Muthala is not alone when it comes to the mistreatment of domestic workers. In a report published by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the University of Illinois, some shocking statistics were discovered. According to the report, 67 percent of live-in domestic workers are paid below minimum wage. In fact, the median wage for live-in workers is only $6.15 an hour.
The report also found that 69 percent of domestic workers suffered from work related pain and soreness over the past 12 months. Also, 91 percent of domestic workers, who have encountered problems with their working conditions during the past 12 months, did not complain about these conditions because they were afraid they would lose their jobs. Among those who did complain, 23 percent were fired because they did so.
The proposed bill in Connecticut would give domestic workers a guarantee of a minimum wage, overtime, paid time off, and a written contract. Domestic workers are classified as nannies, house cleaners, and homecare workers.
Monika Caraballo of Bridgeport, a caretaker for the disabled, is among those who say this type of protection is long overdue in the state.  As a home healthcare worker, she has been impacted by how state agencies assign these workers, which she says forces  her to have to work  40-50 hours on average per week with two or three different patients at a time.  “The main problem is a lot of these individuals pay you through state run agencies, and these agencies only allow you to work a specific amount of hours a week, for a specific wage, so you don’t qualify for benefits. Therefore, I have to take on two or three clients to support myself and my brothers and sisters. A law helping domestic workers out could do a lot to benefit me,” said Caraballo.
Carla Goyes, a nanny in Greenwich who  spoke at the hearing, says the bill would do a lot to help the domestic workforce in Connecticut.  “I believe the Connecticut  Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will provide greater stability for our workforce so we can continue to provide the best care for Connecticut’s families and communities,” said Goyes.
The Executive Director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center and a member of the Board of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Natalicia Tracy, said clear guidelines on hiring domestic workers would benefit everyone.
“As a former domestic worker myself, I have spent most of my life taking care of children, supporting the elderly, and cleaning houses. It is gratifying to see Connecticut seriously planning to pass a law that will protect such an important group of workers, and also give well-meaning employers better industry-specific guidelines to follow,” said Tracy.
The Workers and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School collaborated with the Domestic Workers Project at the Brazilian Immigrant Center to help propose the bill before Connecticut’s legislators.
If the bill is passed, Connecticut would become only the fourth state to have such a law, joining  New York, Hawaii and California.