New Illinois Laws Protect Domestic Workers

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by Cassidy Welter

Labor trafficking occurs throughout the world as a less-often-talked-about form of slavery where traffickers use any number of tactics, including coercion, inflated interest rates for debt repayment or violence to force individuals to work against their will. As in sex trafficking, there are a number of populations who may be at a greater risk of being targeted by labor traffickers. In the United States, immigrants, those living in poverty, the mentally handicapped, and individuals who work in particular industries are at a higher risk of being exploited.

Domestic work is one such industry where labor traffickers seek to exploit and abuse individuals by coercing them to work in private homes where they may be isolated, underpaid and subject to abuse. As we often talk about at Traffick Free, most exploitation is happening in private homes and private businesses; it is no longer on the street. The National Domestic Workers Alliance estimates that 95% of domestic workers are women, and that 46% of all domestic workers are immigrants. The Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition estimates that there are roughly 35,000 domestic workers in the state of Illinois.

Employment and labor laws in the United States are intended to protect workers, grant them certain rights, and to ensure adequate payment for their work. Currently, domestic workers across the country have been subject to exclusion from the standard labor laws that govern the treatment and protection of such workers. Without access to the same forms of legal recourse as other workers like you and I, the domestic work industry has been historically at risk for abuse by labor traffickers. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a complaint against the CEO of Rose International, a consulting and IT firm, for mistreating her former domestic workers. While the availability of statistics is severely limited by the crime’s hidden nature, the International Labour Organization estimates that there 21 million victims of labor trafficking worldwide.

Finally, these labor exemptions for domestic workers are being overruled on the state level. In Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 1288, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, on August 12, 2016. The new law, which will go into effect on January 1st, 2017 will ensure that all domestic workers in Illinois receive the state minimum wage, are protected against sexual harassment, and receive a mandated day off for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week. Six other states have passed comprehensive Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance hopes that Illinois’ passage of the bill will prompt other states to take action. The hope is that this law will help to protect domestic workers from exploitation, mistreatment, and abuse by employers and traffickers. By passing a comprehensive set of laws that include domestic workers, this vulnerable  population will be better protected from labor traffickers.

Of course, there is still much to be done. While this is a needed step to ensure added protections for domestic workers, other industries, like farm labor, still lack essential legislation to decrease exploitation. Watch our blog for more information.