The New Mexico legislature just dealt a huge blow to the racist, sexist exclusion of domestic and home care workers from basic workplace rights, one that advocates hope will spark change throughout the country. With a 52 to 14 vote, lawmakers in the state House passed a bill on Tuesday evening providing these workers with basic protections like minimum wage and overtime pay in state law for the first time. With prior passage in the Senate, it now heads to the governor’s desk.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a rule change that brought home care workers under the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), ending a longstanding “companionship exemption” that had excluded them from basic workplace rights like making a minimum wage or being owed overtime pay for extra hours. It followed a change in 1974 that expanded the FLSA to cover domestic workers.
But according to advocates, 17 states still don’t fully include home care and domestic workers in their labor laws. New Mexico has been one of those holdouts, whose state law explicitly excludes domestic workers from the basics of a minimum wage and other job protections offered to nearly all other workers. That means state law doesn’t require that they be paid the minimum wage or overtime for extra hours, nor protect them from retaliation or discrimination.
While federal law may offer those protections, “the real issue is enforcement,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney of workers’ rights at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Home care and domestic workers in New Mexico could make a complaint to the Department of Labor if their rights are denied, but those complaints too often go uninvestigated and unenforced. “If they were covered under state law, they would have a state agency that enforces state workers’ rights,” Welch explained. The state agency “has a duty under state law to…