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Mass. domestic workers secure rights, benefits from state

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill into law Wednesday guaranteeing members of the domestic workforce rights and benefits previously unenforced by the state government, putting weight behind domestic employees’ four-year push to secure better working conditions.

Termed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, the law requires private households in the Commonwealth to provide benefits such as compensated breaks, sick days, protection from harassment and discrimination and maternity leave to nannies, housekeepers, caretakers and other domestic employees. Domestic workers are also now officially recognized by the state and can receive government benefits such as unemployment compensation and minimum wage protection.

Activist groups and domestic employees all over the state have been fighting the battle for workers’ rights for several years, and many are thrilled to see state officials putting the power of law behind domestic workforce rights. The Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers first presented the legislation to the Labor and Workforce Development committee in a November hearing.

“Domestic workers can now come out of the shadows and create a more safe and secure workforce,” said Lydia Edwards on behalf of MCDW in a statement after the bill unanimously passed in the state Senate.

Sponsored by state Rep. Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat, and state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, an East Boston Democrat, the bill passed in the Massachusetts Senate by a 39-0 vote on May 8 and in the Massachusetts House by a 126-22 vote on June 16.

“Domestic workers make all other work possible,” the MCDW said in a statement two days after the bill’s House approval. “That has been the rallying cry for hundreds of members of the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers as they have organized tirelessly to ensure dignity and respect for the state’s nannies, house cleaners and care workers.”

Supporters of the bill, who rallied at the State House in addition to attending the November hearing, said domestic workers often work long hours for little pay and are at risk of discrimination and harassment.

The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights makes it illegal for employers to videotape domestic workers without their knowledge. It also enables workers who have encountered harassment or abuse to file complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

“In the state of Massachusetts, workers already have some rights, but this legislation is further expanding the rights of domestic workers,” said MCDW spokesperson Magalis Troncoso.“In fact we didn’t have any contract to formalize the relationship between the employer and the domestic worker. Now we are going to have a contract.”

As established by the law’s definition of a domestic worker, more than 67,000 domestic workers will be eligible for the law’s protections. The law will not apply to casual babysitters or to licensed child care agencies that provide workers.

Troncoso said though the MCDW has been pushing for the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights for four years, they have always had the support of many state senators and representatives. They began formulating the official text of the bill in January.

“From the beginning, we have had a lot of support from the Statehouse,” she said. “We have eighty co-sponsors in the House just supporting this legislation because it is bringing a lot of good things for the domestic workers.”

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