The Seattle City Council plans to vote Monday to guarantee minimum wages, rest breaks and other rights for domestic workers, including nannies and house cleaners.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s legislation, which also would create an appointed board to oversee the industry, cleared her labor-rights committee last week.
“All work has dignity, and all workers deserve respect,” the council member said.
Eight states have enacted legislation aimed at protecting domestic workers, but Seattle would be the first city in the country to do the same, according to the council.
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The new regulations would apply to anyone working in a private home as a nanny, house cleaner, home-care worker, gardener, cook or household manager — except casual workers, those working for family or paid with public money.
The Office of Labor Standards would oversee and enforce the regulations.
The legislation grew from a campaign by a group of domestic workers for better pay, conditions and benefits. Casa Latina, an immigrant-worker-rights organization, and Working Washington, a union-backed advocacy organization, supported the effort.
Many domestic workers are women, immigrants and people of color, and some are underpaid and mistreated. Decades ago, they were excluded from national labor laws that protected other workers and gave them the right to unionize.
Proponents say the regulations would improve the lives of domestic workers. They say the board would educate workers and bosses, allow them to solve problems together and give workers a collective voice. Because many domestic workers work alone in private homes and are barred from unionizing, they can struggle to advocate for their interests.
“We’re here looking for support to come out of the shadows,” house cleaner Dolores Mendez said before the committee vote, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.
Labor groups could represent workers on the board, giving them new clout in an industry from which unions have been shut out.
Home-health and nursing-home workers union SEIU 775 is a backer of the legislation and estimates there are 33,000 domestic workers in Seattle, including 8,000 nannies and 7,000 house cleaners.
Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a news release last week pledging to help complete the legislation.
“I have met with domestic workers and heard how important these protections are for them and their families,” she said in the release. “They work tirelessly in jobs that can be very tough. They deserve these rights and protections.”
First, the legislation would extend minimum-wage requirements to domestic workers who are independent contractors and to those who live in the homes where they work. Domestic workers classified as employees already are supposed to be covered by minimum-wage requirements, and the legislation would reinforce that.
The legislation also would bar domestic workers from being made to work more than five consecutive hours for the same boss without a 30-minute break and would prohibit bosses from taking away personal documents such as passports and immigration visas, a practice that can be used to inappropriately control domestic workers.
The city’s budget office estimated the Office of Labor Standards would need to add up to four positions, at a yearly cost of $540,000, the legislation’s fiscal note said last week. The council estimated the office would need to add one position, at $149,000, according to the note.
The note was updated Friday with the dollar amounts no longer included.
The legislation wouldn’t immediately do everything recommended by the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance, which in March released a survey of 174 workers.
More than 80 percent said they were low income, less than half said they got overtime pay and only 6 percent said they had health insurance through work.
Some domestic workers have no retirement savings, house cleaner Maria Luisa Cruz said during Mosqueda’s committee meeting. “I’m not as young as I used to be,” she said. “I wonder what’s going to happen to me when I can’t work anymore.”
The Alliance called for the city to extend overtime-pay requirements to live-in workers, require written contracts and create a system allowing workers to accrue benefits such as health insurance through contributions from multiple bosses.
The group also recommended that Seattle sponsor training programs for workers and make workers who complete those programs eligible for higher wages.
Rather than try to do all of that right away, the legislation would direct the industry board to advise the city on topics including overtime, benefits, training and wages. The council would be required to promptly consider proposals by the board for additional regulations.
The board would have 13 positions — six appointed by the mayor, six by the council and one by the rest of the board. Six positions would be reserved for workers or worker-organization representatives and six for bosses or their representatives.
The city would provide the board with translation and interpretation services and cover travel expenses — at an estimated annual cost of $50,000. The board would convene in early 2019 and the new regulations would take effect July 1, 2019.
Most workers surveyed by the Alliance reported working directly for households, while 30 percent reported working for agencies.
Last week, Beacon Hill mother Jen Soriano backed Mosqueda’s legislation, saying people like her want the best for the workers who care for their children.
Seattle Nanny Network owner Emily Dills also voiced support, describing the changes as “an opportunity for Seattle to offer a different vision.”
Dills said her agency lobbies for decent wages and benefits to attract nannies to the business and because workers who get what they need provide better care.
Leading up to the committee vote, domestic workers described dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination. Councilmember Lisa Herbold plans to introduce separate legislation that would extend Seattle’s anti-discrimination protections for employees to independent contractors, including contracted domestic workers.