Making Homes and Families Work: Statement at Press Conference for the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights
I was honored to speak at a press conference on May 15 organized by the Shalom Bayit campaign of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Domestic Workers United, to highlight the continuing need for New York employers to adhere to the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, which is now New York State law. See more here. An anonymous survey by Park Slope Parents discovered that many Park Slope employers do not pay overtime and are not always following other parts of the law.
What follows is my statement at the press conference. For more information about this campaign, contact Kolot Chayeinu member and JFREJ organizer Rachel McCullough.
Good morning. I am here this morning because I was once a housecleaner who was treated like part of the furniture, because some members of my congregation do or have done domestic work and many are employers, because Judaism has strong teaching about respect for workers’ needs and rights, and because I believe very strongly that domestic workers make homes and families work in a way they could not without them.
Driving back from a funeral on Sunday and listening to the radio, I heard the Stephen Sondheim song, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” from “A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” In part, the lyrics say,
Everybody ought to have a maid,
Everybody ought to have a menial
And quieter than a mouse.
This was tongue in cheek, but in fact far too many people who employ domestic workers think they should be congenial and quiet and not express any real human needs, as for adequate pay or overtime pay or days off. New York State now has a legal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, but it seems to be honored far more in the breach.
When my congregation, Kolot Chayeinu, was working hard with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Domestic Workers United to pass the New York State bill, I noticed a little linguistic reality that I think has large implications:
One Biblical Hebrew word for a maid-servant was shifkha. The Hebrew word for family is mishpakha. If you look at mishpakha, you see the word shifkha within it. Linguistically, and in real life, you can’t hold together a family without the worker who makes it possible.
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