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Friday
Aug192011

"The Help"; Creating Awareness for the Labor Rights Struggle of Today's Domestic Workers

By: Liz Stumm

The movie “The Help” came out last week, an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. The film is a realistic account of the lives of African American maids working for white families during the racially divided period of the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi. The movie portrays three very different women who bravely come together to share their stories of oppression in the workplace during a dangerous time for social resistance. Skeeter, a recent college graduate with journalistic aspirations, invites two maids, Aibileen and Minny, who work for her socialite friends to share their perspectives of what it’s like taking care of white children who will eventually become their oftentimes abusive employers. The women secretly meet to draft a novel of the stories of maids in Jackson, which later is published and distributed to the very women who have inspired the stories of their workplace hardships. Although there are comical scenes illustrating the personal resistance of the maids in Jackson, it does not take away from the larger more serious themes of racial tension and the lack of rights that domestic workers face.

Fifty years later, and although Jim Crow laws are no longer in place, the same issues depicted in “The Help” are still a problem for domestic workers today. More women are able to enter the workforce due to the support of domestic workers who clean their houses, take care of their children and who keep their households running smoothly. Although, the ability for women to enter the workforce is a step towards women’s equality, it places domestic workers who are usually immigrant and minority women in positions of vulnerability due to their lack of rights from being employed by private households. Domestic workers are not protected by a large number of labor laws that ensure overtime hours, sick and vacation days. These lack of rights also attribute to abuses within the workplace, an extreme example being domestic servitude which has become the second largest sector of human trafficking.

The National Domestic Worker’s Alliance has gained success in obtaining rights for domestic workers by having the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights passed in New York on November 29th, 2010. This bill has, for the first time, gives the same protection that is bestowed upon most workers to thousands of nannies, housekeepers, elder companions, cleaners, baby-sitters and cooks in private households in the state of New York:

- The right to overtime pay at time-and-a-half after 40 hours of work in a week, or 44 hours for workers who live in their employer’s home;
- A day of rest (24 hours) every seven days, or overtime pay if they agree to work on that day;
- Three paid days of rest each year after one year of work for the same employer; and
- Protection under New York State Human Rights Law, and the creation of a special cause of action for domestic workers who suffer sexual or racial harassment.

A similar bill is in the works in California, but a national movement is needed to protect all domestic workers. If you find yourself going to see the movie “The Help”, think about the issues relating to domestic workers today and tell your senator “I support the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights!

 

Reader Comments (4)

Well written narrative of the movie "The Help". Thank you for bringing attention to the problems that today's domestic workers face.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDPreece

I had no idea California did not have a support system in place for these domestic workers. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article...I'm so proud of you! :) It was extremely enlightening and has inspired me to make a stance on The Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights. It's only fair.

August 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDWhite

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