Supporting domestic workers:NY Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s bills signed into law by Gov. Hochul

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NY State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, left, as newly sworn-in Mayor of NYC Eric Adams expresses support for her domestic workers legislation. Photo: Office of Assemblywoman Rajkumar

New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the only Indian-American woman in the Empire State legislature, got a great New Years eve gift from Governor Kathy Hochul who signed two of her bills into law Dec. 31, 2021.

These were the last of her numerous achievements in 2021, which included vigorous initiatives to help constituents in District 38, who suffered from the impact of Covid-19.

The latest success was two bills on the status of domestic workers which became the law, protecting the human rights of this group of people, many of South Asian and Caribbean  origin,

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Rajkumar’s District 38, which includes Queens neighborhoods of Glendale, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, and Woodhaven, has many domestic workers, Kumar told Desi Talk, noting that her two landmark bills, A6077A and A8007, expand benefits and protections for the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in New York State.

“The Governor gave me a New Year’s Eve gift,” Rajkumar told Desi Talk. “It’s a major step forward for human rights in New York State. Domestic work is now treated as ‘real’ work, and domestic workers will be afforded the same rights and protections aas an office worker.”

In addition, newly sworn-in Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, with his strong endorsement of the law on January 1, 2022, his first day in office, gave Rajkumar a New Year’s gift, she said.

New York City’s newly sworn-in Mayor Eric Adams supporting New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar’s bills to protect domestic workers, Jan. 1, 2022. Photo: screenshot provided by the Office of Assemblywoman Rajkumar

“My mother was a house cleaner and cook, so I know the challenges domestic workers face firsthand,” Mayor Adams said hailing the new law. “There were times she had to choose between taking care of her children and putting food on the table.”

“Thanks to Assembly Member Rajkumar, there is hope for families like mine. It’s time for domestic workers to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve under the law, and I look forward to partnering with Assembly Member Rajkumar to continue supporting them and all working-class New Yorkers,” Mayor Adams said.

Her inspiration for the bills came from the interaction she had with one of the Caribbean constituents who is a domestic worker facing hard times during Covid.

Before now, the New York State Human Rights Law excluded domestic workers from almost all its protections.

Rajkumar’s second bill (A6077A) extends paid family leave benefits to domestic workers. Domestic workers who work at least 20 hours per week will now be entitled to paid family leave and temporary disability insurance. Previously, they needed to work at least 40 hours, despite a 20-hour minimum applying to all other industries.

“This kind of ‘care’ work is one of the most important kind of work and it is not often valued or recognized,” Rajkumar said emphasizing that now a workforce that has historically been overlooked and underprotected, will get what it deserves.

According to estimates her office provided, domestic work is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, with more than 300,000 domestic workers and 2.7 million households relying on them in New York State alone.

“Working informally and behind closed doors, domestic workers are vulnerable to exploitation, harassment, and discrimination. This vulnerability disproportionately affects immigrant women and women of color, who overwhelmingly make up the domestic workforce,” a press release from her office noted.

In New York State, 93% of domestic workers are women, 69% are immigrants, and 30% are African American, it noted.

New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar’s statement when she introduced domestic workers bills in April 2021. Photo: screenshot courtesy office of Assemblywoman Rajkumar

In her district, she told Desi Talk, a significant number of people of Bengali, Punjabi and Guyanese people, along with Latinos, make up the domestic worker segment. Bengalis are concentrated in Ozone Park and Punjabis and Guyanese live side by side in Richmond Hill.

As an attorney and civil rights lawyer her whole life, Rajkumar has focused on the rights of women and immigrant communities. This legislative initiative built on that experience, she noted.

“With a new year comes a new era of dignity and respect for our domestic workers. They are a cornerstone of our economy and our society. By caring for our children, our aging parents, and our loved ones with disabilities, they allow so many of us the flexibility to pursue careers. Domestic workers deserve the same freedom from discrimination and harassment afforded anyone at an office desk,” Rajkumar said in her formal statement.

“Domestic Workers are the backbone of our communities. They do the most essential work. It’s time they are protected and guaranteed the rights as every other worker in our state. I applaud Assemblywoman Rajkumar and Governor Hochul for making this historic legislation happen,” said Annetta Seecharan, executive director of CHHAYA Community Development Corporation, a grassroots organization that has helped immigrants with myriad needs over decades.

A number of other grassroots leaders applauded Rajkumar for making the bills a reality, including Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Illana Berger, the New York Director and Strategic Advisor for Hand-in-Hand: The Domestic Employers Network;  and Cynthia Terrell, founder and executive director of Represent Women.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed in New York in 2010, and Rajkumar’s legislation builds on that.

For the upcoming legislative session in Albany which is scheduled to begin Jan. 5, 2022, and ending in June, Rajkumar has some more legislation she is intent on getting passed into law.

“On my radar I have some three bills to support veterans, our heroes, who put their lives on the line for us,” she noted. Also, she is a champion of a single payer health sytem, and is working toward The New York Health Act.

 

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