Testimony in Support of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
June 16, 2022
Thank you Chairperson Silverman and Committee Members for holding this hearing today and for allowing me to testify.
It is my pleasure to testify today in strong support of B24-0712, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022.
My name is Bill Mefford and I am the Executive Director of the Festival Center, located in Ward 1, but serving all of DC and beyond. We are a community center providing practical support to faith communities and justice-seeking organizations in DC as well as training and mobilizing efforts for faith leaders across the country.
Today I am proud to say that I am joining with 45 other faith leaders from across Washington DC who have signed a pledge of support for domestic workers, which has been submitted with my testimony. The faith leaders who signed this pledge span across the whole of DC as well as across the theological spectrum. Together, “we believe that all people have been created in the image of the Creator and that each person has divine worth. We believe that work is meant to be an invitation for all of us to participate in God’s continuing acts of creation. To deny workers their basic human rights is to deny God’s creative designs. Therefore, we declare our solidarity with domestic workers.”
I remember when I first met a domestic worker. I was 7 years old and her name was Edith. My mom worked in our home while also spending a lot of time volunteering at our school and church. So, my mom hired Edith to clean our house once a week, but as a 7 year old, the way I remember it, we invited Edith to come and play with us and help us clean our house every week. Edith was very much like the over 9,000 domestic workers in Washington DC, She was a beautiful person and loved to laugh and play. And she worked so hard. In fact, she worked so hard cleaning our house that I felt bad that our new friend had to clean up the messes that we as kids had made so I began to clean up before Edith got there so she would have less to do.
Thus, when I discovered last summer that domestic workers in Washington DC and in many parts of the United States, were intentionally carved out of human rights and labor protections legislation in the 1930s so as to appease racist Southern lawmakers during the passage of New Deal legislation, I thought immediately of Edith. And it angered me. How could we in this city and in many parts of the country have maintained for so long such obvious vestiges of slave labor? What is stopping us as a city from protecting domestic workers by mandating written contracts, or by including them in anti-discrimination legislation, or by ensuring that they are allowed to work in safe places? More importantly, now that we know of these obvious holes in our laws, how can we not move heaven and earth to see that these protections are at long last put in place?
Thanks to Chairperson Silverman and this committee, this long injustice can now be righted. I and many of my fellow faith leaders are excited to repair this wrong.
To right this historic injustice, the DC Council should pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights with all of the protections that are currently in this bill, which include:
- The same human rights protections and occupational safety and health protections for domestic workers as all other workers because domestic work is essential work;
- Required written agreements between domestic workers and their employers to ensure workers know their rights and employers are aware of their responsibilities; and
- The establishment of a Domestic Work Outreach and Education Program within the Department of Employment Services (DOES). DOES will collaborate with organizations that work with domestic workers and employers to provide education and training on labor standards in the industry.
Without these kinds of protections, domestic work will be unnecessarily be exposed to exploitation of all kinds in so many ways. This is why I so strongly urge the DC Council to pass the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022 as soon as possible. Thank you for your time and attention.