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Oscars – and legislators – honor ‘The Help’

The book was not a favorite with book clubs for just any reason. And the buzz around the movie has gone well past the fine performances and period detail. “The Help,” the story of black domestic workers in the South during the early 1960s, has touched a nerve for many, even as far away as San Diego. Why? Because the plight of domestic workers really hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years.

Think about the number of families who have live-in, daily or weekly help. For the most part, those workers are hired on a handshake. They have no workers’ compensation, no short-term or long-term disability insurance, no retirement plan, no paid sick leave. If they are laid off or fired, they have no unemployment benefits. No, the situation isn’t much better, and it isn’t restricted to just one part of the country.

This may change in California, if the Legislature can pass Assembly Bill 889, colloquially referred to as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The bill would apply to people working in private homes. The bill’s definition of “work” goes well beyond housekeeping to include nannies and caregivers for children, people with disabilities and the elderly. The overall objective of the law would be to ensure that employers, the government and the justice system treat domestic workers with equality, respect and dignity.

Though stalled in the California Senate, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was adopted by the state of New York in 2010, and the federal government is working on guidelines for home care workers employed by agencies. It’s hard to think of this as a trend, but it may be the beginning of one.

In our next post, we will discuss the particulars of the bill of rights and other reform efforts.

Source:, “‘The Help’ Gets Its Due,” Sharon Lerner, Feb. 22, 2012