New York Domestic Workers Call for Rights

By Onleilove Alston 06-18-2010

Last spring while eating lunch I noticed a domestic worker poring over piles of Christian books. This day I was worried about a few personal issues and was not in a good mood, but I felt led by the Holy Spirit to share an encouraging message with her. I did not feel like doing this but decided to follow the Lord's leading. While talking to her, I discovered that like me she was studying theology and the Bible. During this conversation I could tell she was dedicated to proclaiming the gospel. Her faith was contagious, and she was in the process of becoming a minister.

As I spoke with my sister in Christ I was reminded of Domestic Workers United (DWU). Members of DWU are advocating for the passage of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Each time I encounter DWU members I am encouraged by their tenacity, hard work, and most often their faith (though this is not a faith-based organization). Looking back on that day I now know that God wanted to use her to encourage me.

In the 1930s, to compromise with southern Democrats, the predominately African-American fields of domestic and farm work were excluded from labor protections given to other fields. As a result, domestic workers can be fired without warning, are not guaranteed vacation or sick days, and in some instances make less than the minimum wage, among other injustices.

The advocacy of groups such as DWU has brought domestics one step closer to workplace dignity. In The New York Times Russ Buettner reports that the New York State Senate has passed a bill which would give domestic workers paid holidays, sick days, vacation days, and overtime wages. Furthermore, prior to being fired, domestic workers will be entitled to 14 days' notice or termination pay.

Though the situation looks favorable for New York's domestic workers, residents of all 50 states deserve work with dignity. Proverbs 16:11 reminds us that "the LORD demands fairness in every business deal; he sets the standard." Remember that what you do to the "least of these" you do to Christ and that "the least of these" today may be your minister tomorrow.


portrait-onleilove-alstonOnleilove Alston is a native Brooklynite and student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. She is a member of the Special Communion Blogging Collective. Her personal blog is Esther's Call, and she worships at Metro Hope Church. To get involved, residents of New York State can contact Domestic Workers United. Residents outside of New York should contact The National Domestic Worker Alliance.

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