Updated 08/31/2010 06:47 PM
Paterson Signs Landmark Bill of Rights For Domestic Workers
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Domestic workers in New York are now guaranteed more rights than anywhere in the nation.
Governor David Paterson signed the Domestic Workers' Rights bill into law Tuesday morning.
It guarantees overtime pay, a minimum of one day off every seven days, three days of paid leave per year, and protections against sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
The bill also mandates that a feasibility study be done to see if there is a possibility of these workers unionizing.
The law covers the estimated 270,000 domestic workers – including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers – employed statewide, and is being hailed as a civil rights victory since the majority of the workers are not only women, but also women of color.
"They are the structure and function of our society," Paterson said. "They have been the skeleton and underpinning of our success. They are the wind beneath our wings. And we have totally disrespected them, until today."
Domestic workers watch in an overflow room as Paterson signs the workers' rights bill.
"Nowhere have domestic workers been able to gain any level of decency, dignity, respect and recognition by the law. That changes today," said State Senator Diane Savino.
The law applies to everyone regardless of their immigration status. Workers also do not need to be "on the books" to be protected by the legislation.
Domestic workers will now also be able to take their employers to court and the state Department of Labor and the attorney general will able to sue on their behalf, as well.
Advocates say they hope the new law is a first step toward larger gains, like paid sick days, health benefits and severance pay.
"The domestic workers bill of rights is a first step in winning recognition. And in beginning to set the floor for this workforce where there has been none," said Domestic Workers United Director Priscilla Gonzalez.
New York is the first state in the U.S. to enact such sweeping protection for domestic workers.
The new legislation takes effect in 90 days.