Domestic Workers and Sectoral Bargaining

Posted: 31 Aug 2017  

Naomi Sunshine

New York University School of Law

Date Written: August 29, 2017


Scholars have debated the role of sectoral bargaining in the current labor law landscape. Some argue that sectoral or social bargaining is the wave of the future and is a vital complement to traditional firm-level bargaining, while others argue that recent sectoral bargaining-type campaigns, such as minimum wage campaigns, take energy away from traditional collective bargaining and are not sustainable without it. This article examines this question through the lens of domestic work – that is, the work of nannies, home-care workers for the elderly and disabled, housecleaners, and other in-home caregivers. Domestic work is unique in that work relationships tend to be informal and employers tend to be individual families. Traditional collective bargaining is challenging for two related reasons: First, on the employee side, there is no collective – domestic workers are usually the sole employees in a home; and second, with respect to the employer, there is no firm. Thus, questions about the value and role of sectoral bargaining have a unique valence in this context. At the same time, this analysis points to the presumptions and limitations of traditional notions of collective bargaining. Traditional collective bargaining happens at the firm level – that is, a union representing employees of a particular company bargains with that company over such issues as wages, seniority rules, and termination. Sectoral or social bargaining happens at the sectoral or industry level, and can involve the government, thus the role of the firm is less robust.

This article explores how the domestic work sector sheds light on the debate about the normative value of sectoral or social bargaining in the labor movement. I argue that unions have already successfully used sectoral bargaining in the publicly-funded home care sector, but that without strong structural support for worker organizations, gains achieved through sectoral bargaining-like legislative campaigns for domestic workers’ rights are more difficult to enforce.

Keywords: labor law, domestic work, sectoral bargaining, collective bargaining, new labor, employment

Suggested Citation

Sunshine, Naomi, Domestic Workers and Sectoral Bargaining (August 29, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Naomi Sunshine (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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