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Law requiring written contracts for domestic workers kicks in

Now that a new city ordinance has taken effect, the new challenge is spreading the word and helping workers overcome fear, members of Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights group, said Tuesday.

Chicago City Hall, with the Board of Trade building in the background.
An ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council last year requires written contracts for domestic workers. It took effect in 2022.
Sun-Times file

A workers’ rights group is trying to spread the word about an ordinance that kicked in at the start of the year, requiring employers to provide a written contract to domestic workers.

The law covers nannies, cleaners and workers who care for the elderly — regardless of citizenship documentation.

Informing individual workers and their employers is a challenge, said Ania Jakubek, of Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights advocacy group that helped ensure passage of the ordinance in June.

“These are not registered companies that you can find through the [Illinois] secretary of state,” Jakubek said Tuesday during a virtual news conference.

She also noted there is “a lot of fear” when it comes to workers seeking to exercise their rights and talk to their bosses about securing a contract.

Jakubek encouraged anyone with questions to call a hotline the group created that’s staffed by English, Spanish and Polish language speakers. The number is 312- 833-1048.

Sample contracts also are available on the group’s website at arisechicago.org.

“We are here to help you break your fear,” said Sofia Magdalena Portillo, 69, a veteran home cleaner.

“We hope this contract does not reach all these workers so late in your life, like me,” she added. “Having something in writing will be very beneficial for both workers and the employer so that everyone has the same understanding and expectations.”

Sofia Magdalena Portillo, 69, a veteran home cleaner.
Sofia Magdalena Portillo, 69, a veteran home cleaner, praised the new city ordinance requiring written contracts for domestic workers. “Having something in writing will be very beneficial for both workers and the employer, so that everyone has the same understanding and expectations.”
Courtesy of Arise Chicago

Complaints to the city’s Office of Labor Standards about employers who don’t comply with the law can result in a $500 fine, said Militza Pagán, an attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law who helped shepherd the new ordinance through the Chicago City Council.

Pagán encouraged employers to familiarize themselves with the law, which also provides protections for workers against retaliation for exercising their right to a contract.

Isabel Santos, a nanny and home cleaner said the contract will help workers demand what they deserve.

“Before learning how to defend myself, I was receiving less than the minimum pay as a domestic worker and the person who hired me thought they were doing me a favor,” said Santos, who’s also an Arise organizer. “But it was not true. It was not a favor. I am a hard worker. I deserve respect ... now with this contract, we can defend ourselves against injustice.”

Many domestic workers studied at university before coming to the United States, where they encountered a language gap because they did not speak English, Santos said.

“We are not ignorant. But sometimes we are afraid to defend ourselves,” she said.

“Our job is very important because it is taking care of our employers families and their homes,” she said.