After 74 years, it’s time to end the legacy of racism that has left farm and domestic workers without basic rights
Jesus and I were invited by Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the United Farm Workers to support an action, through design, they are hosting on today to highlight the exclusion of domestic workers and farmworkers from the Fair Labor Standards Act and to call for action on AB 1313, to provide overtime pay to farm workers after eight hours worked a day or 40 hours worked a week and AB 889, the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The second measure of its kind in this country, AB 889 would finally end the exclusion of domestic workers from labor protections such as overtime and the right to rest breaks.
AB 1313 and AB 889 are small but important steps to end these shameful exclusions. They right wrongs that can no longer be justified or tolerated in a society where equal rights and equal justice are supposed to be more than just lip service
Legislation offers important steps in righting a grievous wrong
When the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, it was landmark legislation. It has been called “the most vital social legislation” in American history. By setting a standard for minimum wage and overtime – a floor below which work would not be tolerated – this country took an historic stand to ensure workers have dignity and respect.
From garment factories in the Northeast to lumber mills in the South and coal mines in the Midwest, the law improved working conditions for more than 700,000 workers in the United States, many low-wage immigrant workers and people of color. Its principal goal was to increase the purchasing power of the lowest-paid workers, making FLSA the original anti-poverty act.
However, in order to win congressional approval for the FLSA, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced to compromise with Southern lawmakers – and in 1938 this country excluded farm laborers and domestic workers from its historic employment protections.
At the time, the vast majority of these workers were African Americans who labored in the Southern United States under inhumane conditions. Slavery had been abolished less than a century earlier, and Jim Crow was in force across the South.
Today, many of the faces of these workers have changed – to Latinos, Filipinos and other immigrant workers who do the important work of harvesting the food that feeds America and the world, and who take care of peopleʼs homes, their children and the elderly.
What has not changed are the deplorable working conditions resulting from these workersʼ vulnerable position, excluded from state and federal labor protections.
Studies and reports have shown human rights abuses are rampant in these industries: poverty wages, long working hours, unsafe working conditions, frequent labor abuses and physical and mental abuse.