Friday, February 1, 2008
Smith on Regulating Paid Household Work
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
Peggie R. Smith, University of Iowa, has just posted an article, Regulating Paid Household Work: Class, Gender, Race and Agendas of Reform. It appeared earlier in the American University Law Review. Here's the abstract: The Article provides a rare glimpse into the legal status of paid household workers, a segment of the American workforce that stands at the very nexus of the ideological divide between the private family and the public market but which has been consistently ignored within legal scholarship. Drawing from primary sources, the Article examines efforts to transform the relationship between maid and mistress into a modern, regulated employment relationship. The Article accords centrality to the ways in which middle-class women campaigned to improve the labor conditions in domestic service during the Progressive Era and the New Deal for purposes of satisfying their own family needs, as opposed to the economic needs of the workers. As an historical piece, the Article highlights how the dichotomy between home and work impeded the evolution of paid household workers from status to contract. As a contemporary piece, the Article argues that the themes which shaped the historical contest over whether to accord domestic workers the benefits and protections of labor legislation remain with us today. As a group that disproportionately consists of poor women of color, today's paid household workers continue to struggle, trapped between a need to provide for themselves and their families and a legal system that tends to accord them protection as "employees" only when doing so satisfies the interests of middle-class families.