City Hall: City Council Advances Domestic Workers Bill, Census Resolution

Two standing committees of Philadelphia City Council advanced important legislation the week of Oct. 21, 2019, including a bill to provide domestic workers with certain employment rights, and a resolution to ensure a more accurate count during the 2020 census.

Domestic Worker Rights

Bill 190607, introduced by Councilmember Maria Quinones-Sanchez, would require those who employ domestic workers provide a specific list of job duties, a set hourly wage and overtime wage, a weekly schedule, breaks for meals and rest, paid or unpaid leave including sick time, paid holidays, and a contract explicitly stating these conditions.

Amanda Shimko, director of the Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance, said domestic workers are often classified as independent contractors and excluded from sick-leave protections, leaving them vulnerable to potential termination if they have to attend a doctor’s appointment or are too ill to work.

“This [bill] will protect their jobs and allow them to take care of themselves and their families,” Shimko said.

Nicole Kligerman, director of the Pennsylvania Domestic Worker’s Alliance, said that Philadelphia is home to 16,000 domestic workers, of which the majority is black and brown women, and many are undocumented.

“They make an average of $10,000 a year and face widespread wage theft, abuse, lack of lack of job security, and persistent mistreatment, with very little recourse,” Kligerman said.

Maria del Carmen Diaz, a domestic worker for 24 years in Philadelphia, testified that she has never received a paid vacation or sick time, nor has she ever had a written contract.

“I’ve suffered wage theft when employers have refused to pay me,” Diaz said through an interpreter. “I work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and several more hours on Saturdays and Sundays for 25 different employers.”

Diaz said that as recently as last week she was forced to work even though she had the flu, and that she has missed several family events because she could not miss work. She also lamented the conditions that some domestic workers must endure.

“It’s difficult work and I’ve suffered with different ailments,” Diaz said. “Dust allergies, burns from using Clorox, damaged and hurting knees because we have to clean on our knees and climb so many stairs.”

Census Resolution

Councilmember Derek Green sponsored a resolution to hold hearings on the 2020 census. The resolution is aimed at ensuring that an accurate count of Philadelphia residents occur so the city receives its full allocation of federal funding.

Stephanie Reid, the executive director of Philly Counts 2020, said each person counted for the census in Philadelphia is equal to about $2,100 a year in federal funding, or $21,000 for the duration of the 10 years following the census.

“And if you have a family of five that you miss, you’re talking about $100,000 over that period,” Reid said.

Philly Counts 2020, an organization established by the mayor’s office to ensure an accurate census count, has trained almost 2,300 census-takers in preparation for the upcoming effort, Reid said.

Councilmember Helen Gym said as many as 414,000 Philadelphians are at risk of being undercounted in the 2020 census, which would represent a major loss of federal dollars to the city.

According to Jo Lin, coalition manager of Keystone Counts, the census drives a federal funding allocation of $880 billion, of which $39 billion comes to Pennsylvania.

“To put that into context,” Lin said. “$39 billion is 35% of the state government budget. So if there was an undercount, the state would not be able to make up that money, hurting municipalities and communities.”

Lin said the $2,100 per resident figure only applied to the top 16 federal programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP.

“But if you were to actually look at the top 55 federal spending programs, the [figure] is actually $3,000 per head,” Lin said.

Pennsylvania is also likely to continue the trend of losing congressional representation, Lin said.

“But having an undercount, we could actually lose more than one representative in the U.S. House, which then affects the number of electoral college votes Pennsylvania has, which then affects how state and local political maps are drawn,” Lin said. 

Lin said it takes seven to 12 contacts to inculcate something into the public consciousness, underlining the importance of constant strategic efforts to make residents understand the importance of the census.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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