Friday, July 18, 2008

Montgomery backs domestic worker protections

Executive to sign bill that outlines employers’ obligations

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The Montgomery County Council has unanimously approved a bill intended to protect housekeepers, maids and nannies from being exploited.

Under the bill, passed Tuesday, employers will be required to provide domestic workers with a written contract detailing terms of employment and must offer to negotiate those terms. If an employee rejects the contract, but continues providing services, the employee must sign a waiver.

The bill is designed to help workers in homes, mostly women employed as housekeepers and nannies. It covers employees working more than 20 hours a week for 30 days or more. Employers are not required to file the contracts with the county, but if a complaint is made, they must be able to produce the contract or the waiver for the county’s Office of Consumer Protection.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) plans to sign the bill.

“These individuals do important work in keeping county households going, caring for our children and our seniors and more,“ he said in a statement. “It’s only right that the county reach out to let them know that they too have rights to deserve to be respected.“

The bill will be effective six months after Leggett signs it.

The legislation sponsored by Councilmen George L. Leventhal and Marc Elrich (D-At large), both of Takoma Park, arose from a council-sponsored survey conducted by George Washington University two years ago of almost 300 workers. The survey found that about half earned less than the state’s $6.15 an hour minimum wage and worked an average 58 hours a week. More than half did not speak English, with Spanish being the primary language for 73 percent of the workers. About half had written employment contracts.

During a public hearing in February, workers — many of them immigrants — testified about working long hours for little pay and being forced to perform services not originally agreed to with their employers.

‘‘This legislation deals with a group of low-wage workers with unique working arrangements ... and when you put [employment] terms in writing, you’re more likely to end up with things working positively,” Leventhal said before Tuesday’s vote.

Workers not employed by an agency and caring for disabled or elderly residents 67 and older are excluded from the bill.

Also, contract requirements would not pertain to certain levels of licensed and certified nurses or to someone who is an immediate family member of the employer.

The legislation does not include requirements for vacation, sick leave and holidays for domestic workers.