Activist: Exclusion of domestic workers from federal labor laws ‘a legacy of slavery’


A leading labor activist is advocating for legislation that would ensure the rights and protections of millions of domestic workers across United States, saying their exclusion is “a legacy of slavery.”

Ai-jen Poo said Tuesday during an interview with Hill.TV that these workers — a majority of which were are women or people of color — have historically been left out of U.S. labor laws dating back to the 1930s, when Congress first passed labor protections under then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

“When the New Deal was debated in Congress in the 1930s, two landmark pieces of labor laws were discussed — the National Labor Relations Act, which established the right to form a union and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is kind of our wage and hour framework,” Poo said in an interview on “Rising.”

“Both of those bills, southern members of Congress refused to support if they included protections for domestic workers and farm workers who were African American at the time, so it’s a legacy of slavery in the United States,” she continued.

“That racial exclusion has shaped conditions for this workforce for generations now — more than 80 years, so this is an issue and a workforce and a piece of the legislation that truly the time has come,” she added.

Poo, alongside home care worker June Barrett, are on Capitol Hill this week advocating for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) introduced companion bills that aim to amend federal labor laws to include domestic workers such as nannies, housecleaners and home care workers.

The legislation would ensure that these workers receive basic labor rights such as paid overtime, safe working conditions and freedom from workplace harassment and discrimination.

“Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing workforces in our country,” said Harris in a statement on Monday. “They provide essential care and support to aging parents, people with disabilities, children, and homes. However, our nation’s domestic workers have not been afforded the same rights and benefits as nearly every other worker.”

There are an estimated 2.5 million domestic workers in the U.S., and that number is expected to spike over the next decade, according to a report by personal finance website Money, citing data from the Bureau of Labor. 

—Tess Bonn

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