Pursuing Justice for Domestic Workers

The Problem:

Domestic workers provide services that are central to the lives of every family in Montgomery County, caring for our homes and families, yet they frequently work in excess of 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, without the right to sick leave, predictable work hours, or vacation time. The majority of domestic workers in Montgomery County are immigrant women. For reasons of race, culture, language and gender, these women are the least likely to know their rights, and the most likely to be unfairly treated by their employers. Unlike almost every other occupation, domestic workers have no contact with people who could advise them of their rights (like co-workers or human resources managers). What’s more, domestic workers are not protected by our country’s labor laws, which means that even if they could reach out to one another to organize for better conditions, they have no protection for their organizing activities.

Proposed Solutions:

- A  law that requires employers to provide written contracts to domestic workers, specifying the work that is to be done, wages, work hours, deductions, severance provisions, and explaining the policy about when a worker can take breaks.

- Live-in workers guaranteed a secure, private living space and access to kitchen and laundry facilities.

- Allow domestic workers to report violations to a county administrative body, to make sure that there is accountability for employers who do not respect their employees’ rights.

Our Role:

JUFJ was involved in this struggle for nearly two years, and our work supported the campaign in many important ways. JUFJ members canvassed at metro stops, collecting signatures from supportive Montgomery County residents. We wrote letters to elected officials, citing Jewish texts. In 2006, domestic workers spoke in local synagogues as part of Labor on the Bimah, and in 2007, 200 people gathered at the Labor Seder as we focused on domestic workers' rights as a modern-day struggle for freedom. JUFJ supporters in Montgomery County jumped into action with phone calls and emails to garner one last "yes" only days before the vote.

The Result:

Tuesday morning, July 15 the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed bill 2-08, giving domestic workers in Montgomery County a right to a written contract with their employers. Every single councilmember voiced support for this legislation, which is among the first bills of its kind in the nation. (see JUFJ's response here)