Most people think that the minimum wage and other state labor laws are supposed to protect all workers. You might not know that domestic workers -- nannies, caregivers, and house cleaners -- are excluded from Illinois labor laws. Nationwide, one-quarter of domestic workers earn less than their state’s minimum wage.
But change is on the horizon. Members of the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers are challenging the root causes of poverty by advocating for a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. The proposed law, which just passed the Illinois House and is poised for a senate vote this fall, would give domestic workers a minimum wage, one day of rest per week, and protection from sexual harassment. Illinois would be the seventh state to pass such a bill.
Earlier this year, the Coalition’s work was featured in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed written by Maria Esther Sanchez, a daughter of one of Latino Union’s members. “The Bill of Rights would close the loopholes that leave people like my mother without basic protections – and without respect,” she wrote. “That’s why I helped my mother prepare to go to Springfield to advocate for an Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”
Her mother, Maria Esther Bolaños, adds: “The Bill of Rights will give us more confidence in ourselves. I will be able to ask for pay that reflects the true value of my work. With the help of Latino Union, I’ve finally found a job where my employer respects me. But I’m committed to keep fighting. I hope that those who come after us will be able to live with more dignity.”
The Coalition also offers referrals, casework, workforce development trainings and job placement in order to support domestic workers in moving out of poverty. In January, the program will launch the Midwest's only domestic worker hiring hall, offering a safe space for workers to connect with employers who are willing to sign a contract and pay a living wage.
By Rebecca Harris and Maria Ralenkotter
Rebecca is the Development and Communications Manager for Latino Union of Chicago. Maria is the CCHD Intern for the Office for Peace and Justice.
Latino Union is supported by a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection. When you give with CCHD in November, 50% of your gift goes to organizations across the U.S., but 50% stays right here in Chicago to fight poverty and promote community development in our own neighborhoods.