Seattle Gives Nannies a Break—Literally

City’s new Domestic Workers Bill of Rights extends basic labor protections into the home.

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On Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed into law the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, a piece of legislation that expands basic labor protections, like minimum wage and mandatory rest breaks, to the thousands of nannies and house cleaners that work in that city. 

The law, pushed by the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance (SDWA), also creates the first-ever Domestic Workers Standards Board, a body of workers and employers tasked with making policy recommendations to improve industry conditions. “This win changes the dynamics between domestic workers and employers in Seattle, creating more equity than we have seen before,” said Gilda Blanco, an organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an unrelated group backing the measure. “This legislation points to a new organizing model where women of color and immigrant women are at the center. They are the face of our democracy.” 

According to an SDWA report, about a quarter of Seattle’s domestic workers make less than $10,000 a year, and nearly all are low-income. Fifty-five percent of the workers, and 88 percent of those of color, lack employment contracts, which makes them particularly vulnerable to labor abuses, according to the report, and 92 percent receive no additional pay for overtime.

For more than a century, domestic workers have been excluded from basic labor protections afforded to other sectors by New Deal-era labors laws. In 1974, Congress updated those 1930s laws to cover certain domestic workers, but continued to exclude others, including nannies and workers caring for the elderly. In 2010, the NDWA pushed the New York state legislature to enact a first of its kind domestic worker bill of rights, which expanded key labor protections to include domestic workers. Since then, seven other states have enacted similar laws. But Seattle is the first city to pass such a law. 

“As one of the most innovative and forward-thinking legislations of its kind, the Seattle Domestic Workers Bill of Rights shows what is possible when the workers who are most vulnerable and often invisible become the center of our solutions,” Mariana Viturro, deputy director of NDWA, said in a press statement. “This victory paves the path for expanding rights for all domestic workers, including at the federal level.”