Domestic Workers' 'Bill of Rights' Lacks Council Backing

Bette Petrides speaks to a group of neighbors who have rallied to protect a weeping cherry tree at 7708 Marbury Rd. Petrides is the founder of Citizens for a Better Bethesda.
Bette Petrides speaks to a group of neighbors who have rallied to protect a weeping cherry tree at 7708 Marbury Rd. Petrides is the founder of Citizens for a Better Bethesda. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Domestic workers in Montgomery County won't be getting their own "bill of rights" to protect them from relatively low salaries and poor health insurance. That decision will be left to the next County Council elected in November.

Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who is up for reelection, said this week that no council member would sponsor a bill calling for a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour as well as health insurance, paid sick days and paid holidays for domestic workers, many of them Hispanic women who work as housekeepers or nannies.

A survey commissioned by the council and conducted by George Washington University graduate students this year found that domestic workers are underpaid, work long hours and receive inadequate health-care benefits and retirement provisions.

On Monday, the Montgomery County Commission for Women sent a memo to the council recommending that the county conduct a public information campaign about workers' rights and employers' responsibilities and create a community-based resource center for domestic workers with a designated liaison from the county government. The commission did not take a position on the bill of rights.

Leventhal said he and other council members would consider the commission's recommendations but had concerns about the bill of rights.

"I think for us to establish rights in law for the private market, demanding certain wages and benefits, it's a dramatic step that county government has not taken before," he said. "We do not regulate wages and benefits for the private market today."

CASA of Maryland, the nonprofit immigrant advocacy group that has led the bill of rights effort, is not giving up.

Alexis de Simone , CASA's women's organizer, said that the organization would lobby Duchy Trachtenberg and Valerie Ervin , the two female non-incumbent Democratic nominees for council seats in the Nov. 7 general election.

"I think they're going to be a lot more responsive to the needs of our community and the needs of low-income working women," de Simone said.

Trachtenberg said she would support a community-based center for the workers but stopped short of backing the legislation.

"I'm certainly hopeful that I'll have conversations with CASA about this in the future," she said. "As to what I would sponsor, I'm not quite sure at this point what that would be."

Ervin said she wants domestic workers to get better treatment but thinks the bill of rights proposal is flawed.


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