Philadelphia seems poised to become the largest city in America to pass legislation aimed at protecting domestic workers such as nannies and house cleaners, whose positions are in many cases excluded from existing labor laws.
Domestic workers, sometimes called “the original gig workers,” often have multiple employers and little recourse for mistreatment, abuse, or underpayment. A bill to be introduced Thursday in City Council by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez aims to address that.
Advocates who have campaigned for months in the hope of passing a bill this year say Philadelphia’s domestic-worker legislation is one of the most ambitious in the country, and it already has significant support among Council members, as well as Mayor Jim Kenney.
Here’s a closer look at the legislation.
The category includes in-home workers, such as caretakers, nannies and house cleaners, of whom there are at least 16,000 in Philadelphia. These workers are disproportionately women of color, and many are undocumented immigrants. Their employers are typically individuals and families without payroll systems and HR departments.
Whom it doesn’t include, according to the bill: any individual who is working on a “casual” basis. That definition is still being worked out, and will likely be a point of contention when a hearing on the legislation takes place this year. It also doesn’t include “life partners” or relatives.
Currently, domestic workers are barred from unionizing under the National Labor Relations Act and are carved out of some overtime protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Many domestic workers have no health insurance and no way to accrue sick days or paid time off.
Some of the major tenets of the proposed law:
Yes (though much can change before its passage). Five Council members appeared at a news conference Thursday morning in support of the legislation, and those who organized in favor of it say they’ve received verbal support from a majority of the 17-member legislative body. Rich Lazer, the deputy mayor of labor, said Kenney’s administration supports the bill and has called the legislation “a foundational step towards moving the needle of poverty in the city.”
Nine states — New Mexico, New York, Hawaii, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Nevada, Massachusetts and Oregon — and the City of Seattle have passed legislation to protect domestic workers in one way or another. A nationwide campaign to enact labor protections for these workers was buoyed over the last year by the rising profile of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, as well as the support of Hollywood and the awareness raised by the Oscar-winning film Roma, about a domestic worker.
Seattle is seen as having the strongest law, and advocates in Philadelphia hope to become on par with it, said Nicole Kligerman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance.
The “portable benefits” system is a novel idea, especially that it would be required by law. Kligerman said it would be up to the summer working group and the enforcement board to figure out the best way to ensure employers and workers know how to track hours and PTO accrual. (There is already an app for that.)
Kligerman said the other “landmark” tenet in Philadelphia’s legislation is the establishment of the enforcement board itself. Only Seattle has such a board, and she said it was critical to workers that they be involved in establishing an enforcement mechanism from the get-go. She also said she expects the board to create “template contracts” for workers, and if an individual doesn’t have a contract, it will be presumed they’re working under the city’s template of minimum terms.
Also, there are no minimum wage or overtime wage protections due to state laws that bar Philadelphia from setting its own city minimum wage.
It depends. One of the big outstanding questions is what constitutes “casual” employment, so depending how many hours a person works for you, there’s a chance you could be exempt. But if you’re not, failure to comply with the law could expose you to a fine of up to $2,000 per violation. Any employer who takes retaliatory action against a worker for filing a claim would face further penalties.
What’s unclear is how this would be enforced, or if the city would have to rely on individual reports of violations. Lazer said he anticipates his office adding employees in the coming year to increase enforcement of this legislation (should it pass) and other worker protection laws passed under Kenney’s administration.