A new ordinance took effect Jan. 1 in Chicago aimed at bringing structure and accountability to what has largely been an informal economy that Chicago. Domestic workers contract mandate covers jobs like nannies, home care workers and home cleaners. It requires their employers give them a written contract with mutually agreed upon terms, including wage, work schedule and scope of work responsibilities. The contract must be in the worker’s preferred language and be reviewed annually or whenever there’s a change in job duties.
“Domestic workers in particular [have] been perceived as individual contractors … it’s the nature of the job,” says Margarita Valenzuela Klein, director of member organizing at the faith-based labor organization Arise Chicago. “[But] that is exactly what they are, they are workers who should be recognized with a minimum wage. They should be recognized with certain guarantees. And that is why, you know this ordinance, it becomes crucial.”
Militza Pagán of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law describes the makeup of the domestic workforce in Chicago.
“We know that there are around 56,000 domestic workers in the general Chicagoland area ... About 20% are Latino workers,” Pagan said. “This population is overwhelmingly female. About 90% of domestic workers in the Chicago land area are women. We also know that they’re also a pretty low-income workforce. The average domestic worker in the Chicagoland area only makes about $12 an hour based on 2019 studies.”
Pagán said anyone performing domestic labor is entitled to protection by this mandate.
“This contract applies to all domestic workers, regardless of how many hours they worked for the employer, regardless of their immigration status. And regardless of if they work for multiple employers, each employer is required to provide a domestic worker a written contract in their preferred language,” she said.
Arise Chicago contract specialist and domestic worker Sofia Magdalena Portillo shared some of her experience as a domestic worker cleaning downtown offices.
“When someone doesn’t know their rights or their value, we’re always going to stay laying low. We’re not going to be comfortable at work that way,” Portillo said in Spanish. “I used to work with someone who, when summer came, they would tell me to clean … the large windows in office buildings downtown.”
“I wasn’t willing to tell him ‘No, that’s not my job’ or ‘pay me extra.’ I would stay quiet because of the fear that I carried,” she continued. “That’s why I invite all those workers [to] inform themselves and know they’re not alone.”
Workers interested in learning more about drawing up contracts can refer to the Arise Chicago website for information, resources, and sample contracts in English, Spanish, and Polish languages.