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Domestic workers have exponentially multiplied within the past couple decades, only to become the slaves of elite nations. According to the United States they are not considered a profession; instead they are viewed as causal workers therefore causing labor laws to enter a grey area. A personal relationship with their employer is what differentiates domestic workers from the typical employee. Most work and live with their employer which this is the reason behind the highly exploitive environment (Milkman 489). Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are what workers face in some but not all homes.
Unlike other professions which have unions, domestic workers are scattered unable to legally organize. Employers have all the power over their employees, many who are illegal immigrants have no choice but to cope. They accept the slave like conditions and substandard compensation because they lack information. Classifying domestic work as a profession as proposed by Laine Middaugh and others is a viable efficient solution compared to William Banks solution of changing immigration laws; it deters abusive environments, labor laws are already in place, and this will allow professional organization to prevent abuse.
Unfortunately, the United States currently views it as casual work from a legal perspective (Middaugh 12). In the article titled “The Pitfalls Of Home: Protecting The Health And Safety Of Paid Domestic Workers” written by Peggie R. Smith, she expresses the lack of recognition domestic workers receive which Causes them to work in hazardous environments without legal protection. Legislation like OSA Act intended to assure safe working conditions is not applicable to domestics like every other government protection.
No wonder domestics are excluded from many federal laws protecting workers, the government does not even recognize the essential work they do to consider them an occupation. It is not surprising that the money earned by them is not calculated into the Gross National Product, which is why they got coined the term “invisible” (Nadasen 77). Federal level recognition will create a barrier preventing and punishing abuse. It sounds very simple yet the simplest answer is always the most effective.
For starters, there are many federal labor laws in place already like the National Labor Relations Act which gives workers the right to organize and negotiate. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 actually includes domestic workers in sections 206 and 207 unfortunately the protection given is unclear and thus falls to the courts to interpret (Paris 220). These laws would be the tools that domestic workers would use once they qualify to be protected by them. Having domestic work recognized as a profession like a lawyer, doctor, or teacher would give them a fighting chance when exploited.
Abuse will no longer be tolerated and if it happens domestic workers would be protected. No longer would they feel helpless, legal protections will take care of them if their employers get out of line. Although this sounds fairly simple, it will take an incredible amount of work. For starters, changing federal guidelines will require many people to pressure congress to take on this issue. Congress will not do anything unless there many people advocating the importance of the issue, having public support will pressure them to seriously consider it.
Domestic work helps the nation function effectively; they allow professionals to allocate their precious time to more essential tasks. Our nation cannot adequately function without domestic workers and would theoretically shut down. New York is the example that should be followed to provide domestic workers with legal protection. Before 2010, the United States did not have a large comprehensive system protecting domestic worker, until New York took initiative on the issue. By approving the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, a precedent was set in the United States.
It clearly protects domestic workers from unfair compensation and gives them a few days off, what’s important is that state labor laws were modified to include domestic workers (Ai-jen 51). Even though this was not the first case were laws were changed it was the first large scale victory. Montgomery County, Maryland passed a Domestic Workers Rights Bill on July 15, 2008, providing basic workplace conditions (Cantor 1062). Just like in New York organizations and works came together to pressure the government into changing its ways.
Legal recognition was given to domestic workers and they are now protected under state labor laws. Other states like California are following the example of New York by starting their movements the process starts; from organizing workers into groups, followed by pressuring the state, and getting public recognition on the issue. Trying to persuade the federal government without support would certainly result in failure, they have to see how it is vital to the nation. So setting small goals is the best approach to receiving the most recognition on the issue, which will later be used to pressure the federal government.
Domestic workers collaborating with community organizations will be the ones pressuring the federal government to change the notion that domestic work is in fact a profession. With the help of public support, groups like Domestic Workers United and others were the driving force behind the success in New York. These groups did more than pressuring lawmakers for legislation; they took a multipronged approach by; engaging as enforcers, advocates, and delegates for new legislation (Middaugh 13). Approaching domestic workers is going to be challenging because of the isolated nature of the job.
Events like the Excluded Workers Congress in which 400 workers attended are vital, to creating support systems designed to eradicate the isolated nature of domestic workers (Goldberg and Jackson 57). Domestic workers have to come together so that people can see the injustices done to them, which will be used to advocate change. Even though recognizing domestic work as a profession would only target areas like compensation and not sexual abuse, some might argue that it will only partially protect them. My answer to that is simple, domestic workers would no longer be ignorant to the protections that they have.
In the article titled “Slavery in the Capitols Shadow” published in U. S. New & World Report, a worker was told by her employer “if she went outside she could be kidnapped or raped. ” This goes to show how cultural differences affect domestic workers but if they are informed no longer would this deception work. If their work becomes a profession, they will no longer be blind to the rights that they have. Once they know they are no longer in the shadows, employers will second guess their actions. Sexual abuses will be deterred by a higher probability of punishment as domestics will understand their legal protections.
It’s all a chain reaction first they get recognition, next they learn about the protections they are entitled too, and all of this would be followed by reductions in the abusive environment. Recognition is the catalyst that initiates everything; workers will feel more powerful as they no longer live in the shadows. Consequences will be a reality for employers as the power vacuum will no longer intimidate workers. Although some works have taken their employers to court only a few have the courage to do this, so setting many examples once labor laws apply to them will deter abuse.
Other solutions have been proposed but they do not effectively eradicate the problem or are too complicated. William Banks in his article titled “The Domestic Worker Debacle: The Need For Domestic Worker Visas In The United States” advocated that we should allow an increase our visa quota. Allowing more domestic workers to enter the country legally would fix the issue for incoming domestics but what about the ones already here? Many of the domestic workers currently working in the U. S. are illegal and this would be very problematic to fix.
The Immigration Nationality Act which places restrictions on people, who seek residency or employment when entering the U. S. , would have to change. Immigration restrictions are the defensive barrier that prevents the national workforce from being saturated with foreign workers, heavy political opposition is guaranteed (Banks 30). Which is why he proposed to increase the number of unskilled workers entering the country using H-2A visas and incorporating Canada’s immigration policy of only allowing workers when there is a national shortage.
Even if immigration laws were to change, this will not improve the abusive conditions workers face. Domestics of diplomats and international agency workers serve as a good example to the ineffectiveness of a visa approach. They are granted special A-3 and G-5 visas to legally enter the country but they are still prone to abuse. Forty-two domestic workers using these visas were abused spanning from 2000-2008 in a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (Kappus 270). Although this is a small number many refuse to report their employers so the actual number is many times higher than this.
Fixing the abuse by targeting immigration is inefficient and too problematic to be an effective solution. It can fix the problem in some ways but there will be too much opposition to effectively resolve the problem and they will still not be protected by labor laws. To reach the entire population of domestic workers, legislation has to be passed on the federal level but state involvement is critical to the success of federal initiative. Supremacy over states is one of the many powers of the federal government, which is why to adequately fight the problem a widespread approach is needed.
Some might say that redefining domestic work as a true profession will not do anything but this change would allow labor laws in the United States to protect them. While politicians can create new legislation there is a possibility of it being ineffective as seen in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Some proposed solutions are that domestic workers should come together and for union but they cannot because the National Labor Relations Act does not give them this right. Since they cannot voice their concerns over abuse laws are essentially worthless. So adding new legislation to the issue will not do any good.
Currently the United States has the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act which prevents forced labor, a common occurrence for domestic workers. By initiating protective procedures for granting visas it stops some of the workers from dealing with abusive employers (Paris 231). Domestic workers are placed in a difficult situation; they are mostly foreign migrants looking for a better life. What some of them get is an abusive employer, with a country that grants them little to no protection regarding this workplace abuse. Their condition is unique as they live and work in the same place.
Often regarded as the modern day form of slavery, they are the invisible workforce that works to keep this country running. Recognition as a profession is all they need to become protected under various federal laws. It would also make them more likely to report abuse if they know they are no longer considered invisible and unprotected. All of this is possible if they get recognition on the conditions they face and on the value of their work. Convincing the federal government to consider domestic work as a profession will be difficult but it is the only viable solution to give workers the strength to fight for their rights.
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