Tuesday, June 22, 2010

[IWS] ILO: Winning Fair Labour Standards for Domestic Workers: Lessons Learned from the Campaign for a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in New York State [18 June 2010]

IWS Documented News Service
Institute for Workplace Studies----------------- Professor Samuel B. Bacharach
School of Industrial & Labor Relations-------- Director, Institute for Workplace Studies
Cornell University
16 East 34th Street, 4th floor----------------------
Stuart Basefsky
New York, NY 10016 -------------------------------Director, IWS News Bureau


International Labour Organization (ILO)

Global Union Research Network (GURN)

Discussion Paper #14


Winning Fair Labour Standards for Domestic Workers: Lessons Learned from the Campaign for a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in New York State [18 June 2010]

by Claire Hobden



[full-text, 36 pages]



As in many countries, domestic workers in the United States have been

historically excluded from the protection of labour laws at both the state and

federal levels. The Domestic Workers United (DWU) Domestic Worker Bill of Rights

Campaign is a coalitional effort to correct this exclusion through effective policy

and cultural change at the state level. Using a grassroots organizing model that

emphasizes coalition and movement building and worker leadership, DWU is

now on the verge of passing the first piece of labour legislation to protect

domestic workers in the history of the United States.


This paper attempts to identify the core reasons for the success of this campaign

while explaining how the strategies adopted overcame particular challenges.

Working off of the DWU assertion that, in order for change to be effective, there

must be change at both the policy and cultural level, this paper uses qualitative

and anecdotal data to measure the success of the campaign according to the

actual policy change achieved as well as the cultural change achieved. Using this

qualitative approach, the paper identifies the following key challenges: 1)

bringing domestic work out of the shadows; 2) convincing the public, employers

and legislators that domestic work is real work, and that employers are real

employers; 3) convincing legislators on the necessity of legislating: that this was

not special protection and that collective bargaining was not an option; 4)

convincing legislators that the bill is financially sound; and 5) mobilizing enough

support to build the necessary political capital to pass the bill. The paper

concludes that, to address these challenges, DWU’s most effective strategies were

to emphasize worker leadership, build cross-sectoral alliances in particular with

employers and unions, and alter the discourse of domestic work by framing the

debate in the media. The paper ends with a brief analysis of some potential next

steps in establishing effective and enforceable labour policies in other states as

well as at the national level.


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Stuart Basefsky                   
Director, IWS News Bureau                
Institute for Workplace Studies 
Cornell/ILR School                        
16 E. 34th Street, 4th Floor             
New York, NY 10016                        
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