Domestic Workers Suffer Abuses Illegal in Most Jobs: Survey

Nearly half of domestic workers earn wages too low to support a family, and nearly a quarter earn less than minimum wage, according to a report co-authored by a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher from a survey of workers in 14 American cities.

“This study shows what happens when workers are excluded from basic workplace protections,” said Nik Theodore, associate professor of urban planning and policy at UIC and co-author of the report, “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”

“Domestic workers do not enjoy full coverage under U.S. employment law, nor do they receive the workplace protections that most Americans take for granted. As a result, they endure profound economic hardships,” Theodore said.

Between June 2011 and February 2012, researchers surveyed 2,086 nannies, house cleaners, and caregivers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

The study uncovered the industry’s lack of adequate pay, benefits, or enforceable contracts; substandard and hazardous working conditions; and verbal, psychological, and physical abuse without recourse. Some live-in workers face especially low pay and harsh conditions, earning less than $2 an hour, receiving few if any days off, and routinely getting less than five hours of sleep a night.

Key findings included:

●      23 percent of workers surveyed were paid less than the minimum wage; 48 percent earned a wage too low to support a family

●      10 percent were victims of wage theft — sometimes of all wages

●      23 percent reported being paid late

●      25 percent of live-in workers said their workloads prevented them from getting five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night in the previous week.

Domestic workers who are hired directly by their employers have severely limited employment rights, according to the report. Such individuals reported earning less than half what they were promised, being paid with bad checks, working 16-hour days routinely, being assigned far more tasks than they accepted, and being fired upon being injured.

The researchers recommended lifting the exclusion of domestic workers in all state minimum-wage laws; adding domestic workers to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance programs; guaranteeing equal rights to overtime pay and breaks; and protecting domestic workers under all state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

“Domestic workers care for our children, they care for our parents, and they care for our homes. These women do the work that makes all other work possible, and they deserve the protections afforded by U.S. law,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which led five organizations collaborating on the study.  Other groups were Domestic Workers United, Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California, and La Colectiva de Mujeres.

The study was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.  The report can be read at http://www.domesticworkers.org/pdfs/HomeEconomicsEnglish.pdf.