On July 1, the New York State Assembly and Senate passed the landmark Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. When Gov. David Paterson signs it, as he has committed to do, it will become the first such state legislation in the nation. As Colorado and California groups are already planning to push for a similar measure, the law may prove a bellwether for reform of household employees’ lives.

The stepchildren of the working world — housekeepers, maids, nannies and others who perform low-prestige but vital tasks in private homes — have failed to enjoy virtually all the safeguards accorded most employees. In the federal realm, although the minimum wage and overtime sections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) have applied to these workers facially since 1974, broad exemptions belie that coverage. Babysitters hired “on a casual basis” and companions of the infirm and elderly need not be paid minimum wage, and live-ins have no right to overtime.

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