Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance wins support from Seattle mayoral candidates

Big news: both candidates for mayor are supporting a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights! Here’s how it happened.

Politics has its ups and downs, but here’s something that’s heartening to see: both candidates for mayor of Seattle have released plans for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

If you’re wondering how that possibly happened, the reason is pretty simple: workers made it happen. Domestic workers in Seattle have started organizing with the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance (SDWA), headed by Working Washington. They’ve raised their issues at public forums. And they’ve built support. Now, both candidates have agreed to commit to working with them the first year in office for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and a commission to continue long-term conversations about workers’ rights and strengthening working conditions for domestic workers.

Here’s the backstory.

This summer, on June 1st, at a Who Will Work for Workers candidate forum held at the Labor Temple, candidates for mayor were asked how they would support domestic workers’ rights.

There, both candidates said they supported a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Jenny Durkan recalled her experiences as a US attorney working on human trafficking, and spoke to the need to "educate the domestic workers so they know their rights, and make sure the employers are giving the wages and benefits they have to, and make sure we’re bringing attention to that issue.”

Cary Moon called for an expansion of the Office of Labor Standards. Instead of having the responsibility for enforcement fall on nannies, she suggested the city should certify employers and show them what their responsibilities are in order to make sure domestic workers are being treated fairly.

It was good to hear both candidates were committed...but we wanted more details. So Caitlin, a Seattle nanny, followed up on June 15th, at a mayoral forum co-hosted by Working Washington and SEIU 925 focused on affordable childcare. Caitlin asked the candidates to expand on their statements of support and answer the question: “What concrete pieces would go into the Bill of Rights? How do grey market or non-union workers, like myself, build long-lasting policy change?”

Here’s how Jenny Durkan answered: “A Bill of Rights has to both protect the rights themselves, give adequate notice and education, and have enforcement. And the rights have to go to what you’re paid, what your right for breaks are, and what your benefits are. The employers have to be told, and the employees have to be told, and then there has to be an enforcement mechanism. It’s happened in a number of towns and it’s actually been successful in some areas.”

And here’s how Cary Moon answered: “I think the Bill of Rights needs to tackle several things. First it needs to talk about pay rates and overtime and the normal work rules that protect the safety of the workers and the kids. It needs to talk about staffing levels. It needs to talk about benefits. Domestic workers deserve unemployment insurance, they deserve paid sick leave, and they deserve medical insurance. And we need to provide all of those in this system... It should have a component for education for both the employers and the employees so everybody understands what the rules are, and it should have funded enforcement so the city can hold employers accountable.”

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With those answers, the candidates moved from general support to something a lot more specific. And it got even better when both candidates marked Labor Day by publishing even more detailed plans for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

On November 2nd and 3rd, workers met with the candidates and asked them to sign on to a letter and agree to take the following two actions their first year in office:

  1. Pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in the city of Seattle.

  2. Create a city commission that facilitates negotiation of wages, working conditions, portable benefits and workers’ right to organize. The Commission would:

    1. Include domestic workers, so they have real representation and a real voice in their industries.

    2. Ensure a livable wage.

    3. Have a mandate to solicit public input from their fellow workers, advocates, and industry experts on issues that affect the health and well-being of domestic workers, including wages, working conditions, and scheduling rights.

    4. Have broad mandates to set legally binding industry standards regarding wages, benefits, working conditions and other issues.

Both candidates said YES to working on this with SDWA and Working Washington the first year they’re in office! They demonstrated to domestic workers that they’ve heard their voices, and are dedicated to making modern labor standards the reality for such a large portion of the local workforce.  

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These were big wins — and workers made it happen.

By getting organized, standing up, and speaking out, nannies and housecleaners with SDWA are making an impact, changing the conversation, and setting the stage for workers to continue to break new ground in Seattle.