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Vol. 74/No. 27      July 19, 2010

(front page)
New York: new divorce law,
domestic workers get rights
Contingent at demonstration organized by Domestic Workers United June 14, 2009, to demand labor rights for domestic workers in New York.

The New York State legislature in early July passed a bill that grants rights to domestic workers, becoming the first state nationwide to do so. In another victory for working people legislators also approved a no-fault divorce law.

The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights bill sets a workweek of 40 hours—44 in the case of live-in workers—with at least one day off each week. For overtime beyond the weekly limits, employers must pay time-and-a-half. Workers will get three paid days off yearly, after one year of employment.

In addition, domestic workers will be covered by laws against workplace sexual harassment. They will be entitled to temporary disability benefits and unemployment insurance.

“We take care of the sick. We take care of the elderly. We take care of their worldly goods,” Patricia Francois, 51, told the New York Times. She said she left her job as a nanny a year and a half ago because her employer beat her. This law “will mean that we will have protection, that the work we do will be recognized,” she added.

According to Domestic Workers United, there are about 200,000 domestic workers in New York City and as many as 60,000 to 70,000 statewide. Most are women and immigrants. The group said it found about one-third reported verbal or physical abuse by employers, and two-thirds said they never received overtime pay, reported Associated Press.

This bill is an attempt to “reverse 75 years of discrimination,” Priscilla Gonzalez, the group’s director, told the media. “Workers will have basic rights and protections that have been denied to them for so long.

The legislation passed in the Assembly 89-38 and the Senate 35-26 after the bill’s sponsors agreed to drop provisions allowing domestic workers to sue employers who violated the law and requiring employers to give two weeks notice before firing workers. Gov. David Paterson said he would sign the legislation. Similar bills are being discussed by legislators in California and Colorado. One of the bill’s provisions would require the Department of Labor “to conduct a study by year’s end of the capacity for domestic workers to organize,” reported the Wall Street Journal, saying this “could mean a nannies’ union isn’t far off.”

The no-fault divorce bill, which the State Assembly overwhelmingly approved July 1 in a 113-19 vote and the State Senate passed two weeks earlier, would for the first time allow a couple in New York to dissolve their marriage by mutual consent without requiring one spouse to accuse the other of adultery, abandonment, or cruel and inhuman treatment.

A spouse will be able to unilaterally end a marriage by swearing under oath that the relationship has been broken for at least six months and cannot be repaired.

New York was the only one of the 50 states that still required proof of fault to obtain a divorce. Under the old law divorces could go through once one of the partners took the blame, or if a spouse were locked up for more than three years, or if both sides consented, they could get a divorce one year after signing a written separation agreement.

The new law will make it much easier for spouses who have been subjected to domestic violence to obtain divorces. Under the fault system they could spend years trying to get one.

The New York State Catholic Conference condemned the new bill, releasing a statement that asserted, “Increasingly society has come to view marriage as disposable and temporary.”
Related articles:
Medieval divorce law to go at last  
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