Domestic workers got a boost on Tuesday when a proposed bill that would guarantee them a swath of new labor protections sailed through a Philadelphia City Council committee.
“It’s really noteworthy that there is no opposition here,” said At-large Councilman Bill Greenlee before the committee on law and government, which he heads, gave a favorable recommendation to the “domestic workers bill of rights” legislation.
The vote sets the stage for the full City Council to consider the legislation on first reading as early as Thursday, and a second and final vote coming as soon as next week.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the main sponsor of the legislation, said the nine votes were there to approve the legislation by year’s end. The 7th District representative also said both industry and workers were on board.
“Some of the employers who helped lead this effort really gave a true voice that this could be done and that this should be done,” said Quiñones-Sánchez, who noted the committee also approved technical changes to the legislation.
Mayor Jim Kenney supports the legislation, said Amanda Shimko, manager of the city’s Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance.
Officials in the mayor’s Office of Labor have beefed up staffing and resources to ensure the legislation was effectively enforced, Shimko said during her prepared remarks at the hearing.
But Shimko expected the biggest hurdle to implementing the legislation, if it passes, would be to “provide education and assistance to service users who likely haven’t seen themselves as employers in the past.”
The proposed bill, introduced in June, would require employers to provide approximately 16,000 domestic workers in Philadelphia — including home health aides, nannies, housekeepers — with a contract that explicitly lays out job duties, hourly wages, overtime wages, meal breaks, weekly schedule, paid time off as well as the frequency and manner of payment.
The proposal also would allow for a portable benefit structure that would allow workers to accrue and use benefits even when working for multiple employers. After passage of the ordinance, the city would assemble a task force to hash out the technical aspects of the portable benefit system and other issues.
Under the bill, the city would mandate employers to provide termination notices to workers and require they maintain employment records, among other things. Employer retaliation also would be outlawed.
Nine states have passed legislation providing some form of protections for domestic workers, including New York and California. Seattle, Washington, is the only city to pass such legislation, which gives domestic workers the right to a set minimum wage, rest breaks and meal breaks.
For decades, federal and state labor laws have excluded domestic workers, who are predominantly Black and Brown women, said Nadia Hewka, of the nonprofit Community Legal Services. They are essentially gig workers, who lack health insurance and access to other benefits.
“It’s absurd that we don’t already have this under state or federal protections,” Hewka said.
Nicole Kilgerman, director of the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, says domestic workers earn roughly $10,100 annually, and face widespread wage theft, abuse, lack of job security and mistreatment with little recourse.
Annie Johnson, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who has spent nearly two decades as a nanny in the United States, said domestic workers were vulnerable to termination and discrimination because they lacked written contracts and protections that lay out their rights and duties.
“Domestic workers,” she said, “should be able to visit the doctor, take a sick day, attend a child’s graduation or a family member’s funeral without fear of losing a day’s pay.”