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Virginia Groups Push Passage of Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021   

RICHMOND, Va. - As the pandemic reinforces the value of caregivers, groups in Virginia are urging state lawmakers to pass a trio of bills they're calling the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights that would help more than 60,000 nannies, cleaners and home-care workers gain worker protections.

Ingrid Vaca, an undocumented housekeeper from Bolivia, said this kind of support is especially important during the pandemic, as she and her colleagues have lost clients over concerns about spreading the virus. Last fall, she and her two children contracted COVID-19. Vaca said she and others desperately need support, such as paid time off and unemployment insurance.

"It's really hard because we don't have any protections at all, and we have to eat, we have to pay the rent," she said. "We pay our taxes, but what happens with the government, with the state, they don't give to us maybe a little bit because we give a lot for many people."

Senate Bill 1310, proposed by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, would add domestic workers to all Virginia's existing worker-protection laws. Companion measures House Bills 1864 and
2032 also seek to include them in workplace discrimination protections and the state's Worker's Compensation Act.

Last year, Virginia lawmakers passed a historic bill securing the first wage protections for domestic workers in the South. Alexsis Rodgers, Virginia state director for the nonprofit Care in Action, said it was an important first step but more needs to be done. She pointed out that only now is the state attempting to undo discriminatory laws from the Jim Crow era that left out protections for jobs mostly performed by Black and Brown workers such as housekeepers.

"The General Assembly did take some action on removing Jim Crow exemptions related to newsboys and shoe shiners," she said, "but domestic workers are also a very important part of our economy. We have to make sure that these workers are also protected."

Research has shown that more than 90% of Spanish-speaking domestic workers lost jobs because of the pandemic. The majority didn't apply for unemployment insurance because they didn't believe they qualified.


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