In 2010, New York became the first state in the nation to offer basic worker protections for housekeepers, nannies and caregivers. The law was considered progressive, even though it only offered domestic workers the same basic protections that the majority of other workers in the U.S. have had since 1938.
The Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights that former Governor David Paterson signed in 2010 gave privately employed domestic workers at least one day of rest per week, set minimum wage standards for caregivers, and protection from discrimination and harassment.
“It’s really part of the unfinished business of the civil rights movement and women’s rights movement in this country,” said Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a leading crusader in the seven-year campaign that culminated in New York's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
“There’s all these women working behind closed doors, doing some of the most important work in our economy, and not being recognized for it or even protected,” Poo said.
Poo was recently recognized for her work with a prestigious MacArthur 'genius’ grant. She says her work is becoming increasingly more important as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
“There is such a huge need for workers who can help take care of the growing aging population in this country,” she said.
Some 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, according to the Pew Research Center. That demographic trend is expected to last for the next 19 years.
Since the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed, Poo has gone on to lead several campaigns that have resulted in similar protections for domestic workers in other states, including California and Massachusetts.