Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday July 13th, 2016, 12:38pm

Advocates Urge Gov. Rauner To Sign Illinois Domestic Workers Bill Of Rights

Illinois caregivers, housecleaners and their advocates rallied at the Thompson Center Wednesday, urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The Illinois General Assembly approved the measure during the last legislative session and sent it to the governor on June 26.

Rauner has 60 days to take action on the legislation, which would ensure that domestic workers in Illinois are paid no less than the minimum wage, receive at least one day off a week and have protections against sexual harassment.

Magdalena Zylinska is among the 35,000 estimated domestic workers in Illinois. She's a housecleaner in Chicago who organizes domestic workers with the Arise Chicago worker center.

"Since the domestic work industry is rapidly growing, and it is a very critical part of our state, I think it is a matter of urgency for this bill to pass," she said. "Also, as domestic workers, we make all other work possible. We take care of children, aging loved ones, people living with disabilities and the homes of families. We want to be recognized as real workers, and we want to be treated with respect."

A Rauner spokeswoman said the legislation, HB 1288, is under review. 

If the governor signs the bill -- spearheaded in the legislature by state Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) -- Illinois would become the seventh state to adopt a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, joining California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.

Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said the push for greater job security and improved working conditions for domestic workers is close to reaching a "tipping-point moment" nationwide. 

"When enough states really take the initiative and take the lead, it starts to create a new normal, a different expectation of other states," she said. "And that's what we think Illinois will bring us to, is a tipping-point moment where there's an inevitability in other states around the country. So that's why this particular campaign in Illinois is so important to us. And we're very hopeful that Governor Rauner will see the opportunity here to correct a very long-standing injustice, and also bring this workforce into the 21st century."

The domestic workforce, mostly made up of women, has historically been excluded from protections under state and federal laws extended to workers in other industries.

Many in-home workers are susceptible to exploitation on the job because they typically do not have employment contracts and often work in the shadows, according to advocates.

Under the proposal, domestic workers in Illinois such as nannies, housecleaners and caregivers would be covered under the state's Minimum Wage Law, the Wages of Women and Minors Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and provisions of the Human Rights Act.

"Caregivers like me should be treated fairly in our work," said Grace Padao, a domestic worker and leader with the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) Chicago. "We need to be given equal pay for equal work. We need one day of rest for our health and our sanity. We need to work with dignity, respect and pride."

In her first job as a live-in caregiver in 2002, Padao said she worked seven days a week, earning $80 a day. During that job, Padao said she was "never allowed a single day off."

"I worked all day, every day, because I am on call anytime, even when I am sleeping at night," she said. "I sacrificed so much to put my three children through school."

Meanwhile, the demand for domestic care is on the rise.

"The baby boom generation is starting to turn 70, and because of advances in health care technology, people are living longer than ever," Poo said. "At the same time, millennials are starting to have children. And so you have a huge surge in the need for nannies and caregivers.

"We know that this workforce is going to be critical to the economic sustainability of working families in this state, and so we need to strengthen this workforce," she continued. "It's right on time, really, to put these basic protections in place so that we can actually move towards making these jobs good jobs for the 21st century." 

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