Seattle officials are set to take part Thursday in a political campaign with help from the advocacy organization Working Washington to help nannies and house cleaners win new rights.
Nannies and house cleaners may be the next group of workers to win new rights from Seattle City Hall.
Three City Council members and a representative from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office are set to take part Thursday as domestic workers launch a political campaign with help from the advocacy organization Working Washington.
“This is a very, very vulnerable population,” said Caitlin Heermans, who is a nanny and household manager. “Because we have such close relationships with the people who employ us, we don’t feel like we have much power to advocate for the things we need.”
The new Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance wants the city to make sure nannies, house cleaners, cash-paid home-health aides and other household workers are covered by the same labor protections as other employees, said Sage Wilson, a Working Washington spokesman.
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The alliance also wants Seattle to require written contracts between employers and domestic workers and wants a new city commission created to set and monitor labor standards in the domestic-work industry. The commission would include both workers and employers, said Wilson.
Though domestic workers are theoretically covered by the city’s sick-time and minimum-wage laws, it can be difficult for individuals workers to assert their rights, and they aren’t covered by the federal law that requires overtime pay, Wilson said. He recounted a story of a nanny being let go after injuring her foot on the job.
Wage theft is rampant, with employers finding ways to underpay nannies, said Heermans, who connects with other workers while out and about with the child she cares for and on Facebook. The 30-year-old said she’s been working as a nanny for many years.
“I’m grew up here and our city loves to think of itself as valuing equality and fair treatment,” she said. “If that’s true, we must protect domestic workers.”
Seattle could pass a city law requiring domestic workers to be paid overtime, Wilson said. Written contracts and a dedicated commission could reset norms in the industry and help individual workers hold their employers accountable, the spokesman said.
“Collective bargaining doesn’t make sense for single employees working for single employers,” he said, arguing the commission would give the workers a voice in their industry.
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, a business and employer group, said it has not yet considered the proposals but will monitor the conversation.
How many workers belong to the new alliance? Wilson couldn’t say. There’s no membership structure yet, though organizers have spoken with hundreds of workers, he said, estimating there are thousands in Seattle.
Working Washington, a nonprofit with close ties to SEIU 775, which represents nursing-home and home-health workers, has in recent years helped lead efforts in Seattle to mandate sick time, raise the minimum wage and provide service workers with scheduling protections.
The campaigns have included strikes by fast-food workers and organizing by baristas, and the wins have generated political momentum, Wilson said.
M. Lorena González, Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda are the council members lined up for Thursday’s kickoff event. During the mayoral race, Durkan and opponent Cary Moon both said they would seek new protections for domestic workers.
Many nannies and house cleaners are women and people of color, Wilson said. Some are employed through agencies, while many others are employed independently. Several agencies have expressed support for the domestic-workers campaign, said Wilson.
Figuring out how to provide benefits such as workers’ compensation and health insurance to people employed by households could be challenging, Wilson said. But Heermans believes domestic workers deserve benefits.
“I work hard and I’m really good at my job. I should have health insurance as an option,” she said.