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Mayor Durkan Signs Domestic Worker Bill of Rights Legislation into Law

Seattle becomes the first U.S. city to enact enforceable protections for domestic workers

Seattle (July 27) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan was joined by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, and domestic workers as she signed the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights into law at Casa Latina. This legislation marks the first time in history a city in the United States has set enforceable worker standards for domestic employees.

“Seattle continues to lead the way by creating meaningful, economic opportunity for all members of our community. I sat with domestic workers last year and heard the heartbreaking impact caused by the lack of basic worker protections, which negatively affected their livelihood, their families, and their wellbeing,” said Mayor Durkan. “I pledged to make real on the promise of fair wages and rights a reality for our domestic workers, and with the support of so many, we are making critical improvements for our workers. Thank you to Councilmember Mosqueda and every domestic worker, union, worker advocate, and organization for working so hard to pass this historic bill into law.”

“For far too long, domestic workers have lived and worked in the shadows of our economy. Domestic workers – who are primarily women, immigrants and people of color – and hiring entities have called for more protections. This bill extends basic labor protections to those whose work makes it possible for so many people to go to work, knowing their loved ones and home are cared for,” said Councilmember Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide), Chair of the Housing, Health, Energy and Workers’ Rights Committee. “I want to thank my Council colleagues, the workers, the hiring entities, the Mayor, advocates and community members who all came to the table to work on this legislation.”

For more than 80 years, domestic workers have been exempted from federal laws that allow workers the legal right to join in union to demand better working conditions. That exclusion has historically led to the exploitation of these workers who are mostly immigrant and mostly women of color. Many domestic employees are covered by federal, state, and municipal laws on minimum wage and overtime but don’t know their rights. They fear retaliation and loss of employment for speaking out. According to the Seattle Domestic Workers Association estimates there are at least 30,000 domestic workers within city limits.

“For too long, domestic workers have been excluded from basic labor laws, including the right to organize. This landmark legislation creates a standards board through which domestic workers can meet with employer representatives and advocate for ongoing improvements in working conditions, pay, and benefits. Once again Seattle is leading the way!”  Sterling Harders, vice president, SEIU 775.

“After decades of exclusion from basic workers’ rights laws, domestic workers in Seattle today take a huge step from invisible to powerful,” said Rachel Lauter, Executive Director of Working Washington and Fair Work Center. “The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is a groundbreaking step forward for nannies and housecleaners, and the latest example of Seattle leading the way thanks to the bold leadership of elected officials like Mayor Durkan and Councilmember Mosqueda.”

Beginning in July 2019, all domestic workers, whether classified as an independent contractor or an employee, are covered by these new standards. The Office of Labor Standards (OLS) is granted enforcement authority and will conduct outreach and provide education to inform workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities. Aspects of the law include:

  • Requiring that domestic workers are paid the Seattle minimum wage.
  • Establishing uninterrupted meal and rest periods, including financial compensation if responsibilities require working without breaks.
    • Providing one day (24 hours) off in a seven-day period for workers that reside where they are employed.
  • Prohibiting employers from confiscating the documents or other personal effects of their workers.
  • The institution of a Domestic Workers Standards Board to establish further standards.

“Knowing that our work is recognized and valued, knowing that little by little we are starting to leave the shadows, and knowing, more than anything, that we will have rights as basic as a minimum wage makes me proud of the work I do and proud of living in the city of Seattle,” said Silvia Gonzalez, a domestic worker.

“As employers, we know that domestic workers are vital to the social, emotional, and economic well-being of our families and communities. Most employers want to do the right thing in their homes for ourselves, our families, and the workers we employ. But it isn’t always clear what doing the right thing means or looks like,” said Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network, Seattle Organizer, Andrea Lee. “As we’ve worked with Councilmember Mosqueda’s office on this legislation, we’ve shared a clear message:  Seattle’s employers are looking to the City for clarity and guidance about critical labor protections, employment agreements and benefits. Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network is proud to have helped develop the Domestic Worker Ordinance and looks forward to partnering with the City to secure needed resources to create a robust plan for employer education and outreach in all of Seattle’s neighborhoods so that the ordinance can be implemented well.”

The newly instituted Domestic Workers Standards Board will convene in the first quarter of 2019 and will bring together domestic workers, worker organizations, and employers who will make recommendations to the City on effective education and enforcement strategies.