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James Lin

excerpted from: James Lin, A Greedy Institution: Domestic Workers and A Legacy of Legislative Exclusion, 36 Fordham International Law Journal 706 (March, 2013) (Student Note) (208 Footnotes)

Over the past several decades, the US domestic labor force has experienced a surge in low-wage work, owed partly to the economic downturns of the late 1980s and 2000s. Domestic household services, the segment of service work characterized as remunerated household-related labor, is one industry that has been affected by this labor market shift. Commonly, individuals in this sector include cleaners, cooks, housekeepers, and nannies. The household domestic services industry has grown considerably as a result of this labor market shift, fueled by an influx of low-wage workers from non-US countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. The trend is likely to continue.

Notably, this group of individuals falls outside the ambit of several important pieces of legislation that could otherwise offer them workplace protections. For example, the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), one of several important laws created during the New Deal era, protects an employee's right to collectively bargain with her employer by shielding her from certain workplace practices intended to discourage or handicap bargaining activity. However, domestic workers are not similarly protected. As a result, they are left with a veritable handicap should they attempt to voice their concerns regarding the employer-employee relationship.

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Domestic workers face notable challenges within the workplace, unlike any other group of workers in the United States. Part I.A provides an overview of the industry and notes that domestic workers stand in a unique position that render them particularly vulnerable relative to other groups of service workers. Next, Part I.B discusses international labor protections available to domestic workers. Finally, Part I.C details relevant legislation in the United States, including a detailed discussion of the domestic worker exclusion within the NLRA.