NY Domestic Workers Deserve a Bill of Rights

“If the New York City Council can pass a bill mandating that carriage horses deserve two days of rest per week, we can certainly do better for the domestic workers of this state,” declares Diane Savino, sponsor in the New York State Senate of a pending Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Private household workers are still excluded from some of the most important labor laws, such as the National Labor Relations Act, which means that they do not have the right to legally form unions. Even though they are entitled to unemployment compensation and Social Security, employers often don’t pay the required taxes.  The vast majority of domestic workers are poor women of color. Many are immigrants who are not fluent in English and may be undocumented.  Because of their vulnerability, workers find themselves powerless and subject to abuse.

The current New York Domestic Worker Bill of Rights has been six years in the making.  Stalled in committee during previous legislative sessions, the bill has passed the Assembly and has a real chance of passing the Senate, and Governor David Paterson has indicated that he would sign the bill into law.  If passed, it would be the first of its kind in the nation and a model for rectifying long-standing injustices to one of our country’s most valuable–and vulnerable–sectors of the workforce.

The Bill of Rights would offer a much-needed layer of protection and a statewide set of standards for domestic workers. It would enable them to take a day off with pay when ill, ensure that they get advance notice of termination or severance pay, provide them with paid vacation and holidays as well as overtime pay and guarantee them one day off each week. Not as much as the carriage horses in New York. But with the passage of the Bill of Rights, we will be one step closer to treating the women who care for and keep safe our most precious possessions–our children–as well as we treat the horses who parade tourists through the scenic streets of New York.

ABOVE: Girl pets a carriage horse in New York City. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/edenpictures/ / CC BY 2.0


  1. I unequivocally support the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights and am very hopeful that this crucial legislation will pass the NY State Senate this year. I am also, however, quite disappointed whenever I see or hear social justice advocates dismiss the value of protecting other oppressed groups to further an agenda (no matter how valuable that agenda is).

    Animals in this society, including the carriage horses in NYC, experience tremendous suffering in the name of greed, just like domestic workers. Regardless of the cause, mocking or belittling one cause to advance another is harmful to all our efforts for a more just and compassionate world.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with David.

    When you set the tone of a piece via denigrating another group’s progress (no matter how small that progress), you miss the point.

    Compassion doesn’t come in quotas. There’s enough for everyone.

  3. While not a woman of color or immigrant, I am a domestic worker. I work 50+ hours a week, take four classes per semester online, and am a single mother. While my working conditions are very nice, I am not given any days off with pay, no health insurance, and no sick days. If my son needs to go to the doctor, I must arrange someone else to take him, because I can not afford to take even an hour off of the job. I, myself, have not seen a doctor since 6 weeks after he was born (now four years old) because my line of work does not afford me with the benefits of those employed outside of a home.

    I support any such Bill that would allow women in my situation, and those in far worse, some job-related protection and allow them the same rights that are guaranteed to those legally employed outside of the home.

  4. While I applaud Ms Savino for sponsoring a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,
    in the NYS Senate, engaging in the same old same old self-serving “they have it better than we do”, is futile, divisive and stupid. Pitting the sham of an industry bill that purported to make improvements in the horrendous conditions endured by carriage horses against other hard working people is counterproductive and unworthy of someone standing up for the rights of domestic workers. The conditions under which these horses live is shameful and no less so than the lack of basic rights that have been afforded to either domestic workers or animals.

    “There remains a group who are so persistently abused and marginalised that their suffering is ingrained in our everyday lives. If animals could talk, their chorus of cries would drown out every other noise in the world. We are all animals. We are all living, breathing beings who share the same Earth. We all feel pain and suffer when we are hurt or deprived of our lives, our families, our freedom; we all have the right to experience kindness and compassion.”

  5. As a supporter of all social justice issues, including workers rights and animal rights, I was disappointed to see this blog portray the carriage horse industry’s recent rate increase bill as some sort of model of progress for the the very important NY Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
    This bill–Intro 35, is simply a rate increase for the exploitative and abusive horse-drawn carriage industry, and codifies into law the already horrendous living and working conditions of horses forced to pull carriages through a dangerous, unnatural urban environment (which also poses a big public safety risk for people).
    It was a bill designed ~by~ the carriage industry, and one in which all animal protection organizations opposed, including the ASPCA, the organization that enforces the humane laws for these horses.
    It doesn’t protect the horses, it actually assures that they will continue to be put in harm’s way and live an unnatural, inhumane existence and be treated as commodities until they can no longer turn a profit and are sold to be slaughtered.
    Surely this kind of unjust industry cannot be held up as a model of progress for any social justice issue.
    I’m the NY Director of Friends of Animals, and a board member and co-founder of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. We have spent several years working to enact legislation that would finally get these horses off of the streets of NYC. Intro 86, sponsored by Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito is pending in the City Council, and we are working closely with her to get the support needed to ban carriage horses from NYC and allow the horses to live the rest of their lives in a safe sanctuary or refuge where they no longer have to be enslaved as a profit-making ~thing~, but can instead simply be what they are: horses, with the freedom to move and graze freely and interact with other horses, as they are meant to do as herd animals. Did you know that horses are prey animals, which means that they frighten easily, and any frightening stimuli causes them to react by running? Many carriage horse accidents & car collisions have occured for this reason: a horse spooking and running out of control. This is one of many reasons why horses DON’T belong in any urban environment amongst vehicles, bikers, and pedestrians–it’s a recipe for disaster.
    The image used above in this posting–of a shackled, immobile horse with blinders–forced to “work” through domination and oppresion for the profit of another is a very unfortunate image to use in connection with the efforts to achieve rights and freedoms for ~any~ group of beings. I hope everyone reading this will take a few minutes to educate themselves about the horse-drawn carriage industry and learn why so many animal advocates are working to enact a ban in NYC and many other cities across the country and world.
    http://www.banhdc.org (Website for the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages)

    Edita Birnkrant
    NY Director
    Friends of Animals

  6. Horses like humans have to work for a living. when you place animals above oppressed peaple you have you priorities mixed up. You also show your ignorance about how these horse live, they have better a health system then alot of peaple, more time off and are better fed then alot of Americans and it is not cruel hard work whats cruel is the 100,000 of horse KILLED every year. Young fit horse along with the old thats cruel

  7. Tamera, it’s not about putting oppressed people “above” animals at all–it’s simply about recognizing that there is a lot of exploitation and abuse happening to many different groups of people, in addition to animals. All oppression and domination is interconnected and we need to stand up to all of it.
    A quote of Alice Walker’s beautifully expresses this notion:
    “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
    Where did the idea that horses “have to work,” come from, anyway? I
    t came from humans, who have dominated (the original) wild horses for a ~long~ time and bred them for our use as domesticated horses. The horses that are specifically bred for commerical use, such as carriage horses, ~only~ exist because they are purposely bred to be exploited for profit. They don’t fall out of the sky with carriages attached to their backs.
    We create the problem, and that’s at the root cause of why so many horses are slaughtered each year. The simple answer would be to not breed so many horses for lives of exploitation that end in the slaughterhoues, and that’s why many cities around the world are working towards enacting bans on horse-drawn carriages in their cities. Doing so lessens the demand for breeding horses into these lives of misery.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ms. Magazine, Annie Shields. Annie Shields said: RT @msmagazine: Did you know that private household workers (mostly poor women of color) don't have the legal right to form unions in NY? http://ht.ly/1Mh8t […]

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