Momentum for legislation has been building for months. The Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance wants the city to extend standards such as the minimum wage and overtime pay to live-in workers, mandate written contracts and create a portable-benefits system.
Nannies and house cleaners pushing for new protections and benefits shared stories at Seattle City Hall on Thursday as City Council members began to discuss legislation.
“We’re here to say we do matter and we deserve rights like everyone else,” said Silvia Gonzalez, a community organizer who’s worked as a house cleaner.
Supported by organizations such as Casa Latina and SEIU 775, the domestic workers said they lack protections such as written contracts and benefits such as workers’ compensation and health insurance.
They aren’t all covered by some laws that apply to people in other industries and can’t unionize in the traditional way.
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Before speaking to Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s committee, the workers used about 8,000 diapers and 7,000 gloves to assemble miniature houses outside City Hall.
SEIU 775, a local union for nursing-home and home-health workers, estimates there are about 8,000 nannies and 7,000 house cleaners in Seattle.
“These workers have been long living in the margins of our labor laws and they’re disproportionately women, disproportionately people of color, disproportionately immigrants,” Mosqueda said.
“These are the most vulnerable workers in our community and we’re here today to hear directly from them as we think about changing our laws.”
In an interview, Ty Messiah said the employer she now works for as a nanny provides her a living wage, paid vacation days and health insurance. A previous employer didn’t.
“I had to commit my entire life to them but they didn’t really care what I had going on,” said Messiah, 22, who looks after a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old.
“You care so much about raising these kids and making sure everything in the house runs smoothly. But does the family really care about you?”
A house cleaner, Marcela Cortes, said she’s experienced sexual harassment on the job and that making enough money to support her four daughters is a struggle. When Cortes needs to visit the doctor and can’t work, she doesn’t get paid, she said.
“For all the house cleaners, it’s like that,” the 40-year-old said.
Thursday marked the start of the council’s official consideration of the issue. Though legislation has yet to be introduced, momentum has been building for months.
In December, Mosqueda and Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Lisa Herbold took part in a kickoff for the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance, a project of the advocacy organization Working Washington. And during her campaign last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan promised to help create a domestic-workers bill of rights.
With close ties to SEIU 775, Working Washington has helped lead efforts in the city to mandate sick time, raise the minimum wage and provide service workers with scheduling protections. SEIU 775 President David Rolf urged council members Thursday to continue showing that cities like Seattle can be “laboratories for democracy, for the next labor movement.”
The Alliance released a report Thursday saying the city should extend standards such as the minimum wage and overtime pay to live-in workers, mandate written contracts and create a portable-benefits system allowing multiple employers to contribute to provide a worker with insurance.
The report also says Seattle should sponsor training programs for workers, make workers who complete those programs eligible for higher pay and create a special commission to oversee the domestic-work industry.
A survey of 174 nannies, house cleaners and gardeners by the Alliance indicates that local domestic workers have trouble making ends meet.
More than 80 percent of the respondents are low income, more than half receive no overtime pay and only 6 percent have health insurance through their employers.