Creating Technology for Social Change

Case Study: New Day New Standard, an interactive voice hotline powered by VoIP Drupal

written collaboratively with Leo Burd

New Day New Standard is a hotline that informs nannies, housekeepers, elder caregivers, and their employers about the landmark Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, passed in New York State in November 2010. Users can call the hotline from any type of phone to listen to discussion about the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights, navigating through content via an interactive voice menu (IVR). With VoIP Drupal as the underlying technology, the menu and content system is managed directly from inside a Drupal website and the show is accessible to callers using any kind of phone. This hotline will be one component of the New York City-wide campaign to educate domestic workers and their employers about the legislation defined in the Bill of Rights. Using performance art as an educational tool, the know your rights content of NDNS is written and performed as radio show episodes. Call the hotline and you can hear Christine Lewis, a real nanny from New York, hosting a radio show for nannies and answering callers who ask about new rights and services.

The hotline has been implemented with VoIP Drupal (, a versatile open source communications toolkit that brings the power of voice, SMS and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites. Since VoIP Drupal has been specifically designed to facilitate community outreach and provide an online presence to even those who are technically challenged, or who do not have regular access to computers, it seemed to be the perfect solution for the implementation of the New Day, New Standard system.

Phone line: +1 (646) 699-3989

Codesign team

Civic education and civic action
About the Domestic Workers Movement in the United States
The Domestic Workers Movement has been advocating for workers rights since the end of the 1800s. After 6 years of lobbying the NY State Government, this Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was signed into law in 2010. DWU is campaigning next in California for similar legislation.

What did we win?

  • We won recognition. For the first time in any state, domestic workers will be included in all of the major labor laws protecting other workers. This includes: overtime pay at time and a half your regular rate of pay, a minimum of one day of rest per week, protection from discrimination and harassment and inclusion of part-time workers in disability laws.
  • We challenged and expanded how minimum standards are legislated. We established a mandatory minimum of at least three paid days leave per year. Because New York is an employment at will state, workers do not receive paid leave, unless you have a contract that states otherwise. Domestic workers pushed legislators to understand the specific challenges to negotiation in the domestic setting and set a new precedent where minimum standards for domestic workers include paid days off.
  • We are paving the way for a new labor movement. We are forcing a debate about the existing structures for collective bargaining. Included in the bill is a mandate to the Department of Labor to study the feasibility and specific challenges to collective bargaining for domestic workers under the current state and federal labor-relations laws. This is the first study of its kind, and domestic workers are helping shape the investigation through a partnership with the Department of Labor, in addition to producing our own independent study.
  • We – working-class immigrant women of color – are inspiring other workers and communities everywhere to continue organizing. Throughout the country and around the world, other low-wage workers, women and oppressed communities have been encouraged by this win to fight. With this victory, we have demonstrated that even in times of economic crisis and anti-immigrant sentiment, we can achieve major victories that change the course of history for working-people through organizing.

History of Domestic Worker Organizing
Domestic workers have been coming together to organize for dignity, respect, and rights since the late 19th century. The campaign to win the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is part of a long legacy of struggle led by women of color.

  • 1881: In Atlanta, Georgia, twenty laundresses formed the Atlanta Washing Society. Together they went on a ten-day strike demanding higher wages. The police arrested and fined the participants. However, the organization has gained 3,000 members since its formation.
  • 1934: Dora Jones establishes the Domestic Workers Union in New York, which attempts to create a standard contract to protect domestic workers.
  • 1935: On August 11, 1935 the NLRA, meant to protect workers against unfair labor practices, is passed. However, the legislation excludes domestic workers.
  • 1935: The Social Security Act is passed, but, like much of the legislation associated with President Roosevelt’s New Deal, excludes domestic workers.
  • 1937: A Domestic Workers Association sponsored by the National Negro Congress began organizing in New York City.
  • 1938:The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) gets enacted in 1938. It sets standards for minimum wage and overtime pay for the majority of workers. It does not include domestic workers.
  • 1942: Because of shortages during WWII, Jean Collier Brown organized the United Domestic Workers’ Local Industrial Union 1283 in Baltimore, MD. However, by the end of WWII, the organization was largely gone.
  • 1940s: Many whites feared the formation of “Eleanor Clubs,” formally organized groups of black female domestic workers who were inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s tendency to challenge racial conventions. The fear was so widespread that in 1942, the FBI launched a formal investigation into the matter, and concluded that the “Eleanor Clubs,” whose rumoured motto was “No colored maid in the kitchen by Christmas,” did not exist.
  • 1955: Rosa Parks, an African-American domestic worker, refused to sit at the back of a public bus, an event which launched the modern Civil Rights Movement because of its media coverage.
  • 1965: Geraldine Roberts began organizing African-American women who were working as domestic servants in Cleveland, Ohio. Her efforts resulted in the creation of the Domestic Workers of America, which was chartered in 1966, and whose accomplishments include providing training, offering job placements, and establishing a registry for domestic workers.
  • 1968: Dorothy Bolden, an African-American domestic worker and civil rights activist, helped organize the National Union of Domestic Workers. Under her direction, the organization, which aimed to set wage standards for women employed as domestic workers, instituted a “Maids Honor Day,” to bring attention to the work that has long been undervalued.
  • 1969: Mary McClendon creates the Domestic Workers Organization in Detroit.
  • 1972: Las Tecnicas del Hogar de America is formed with the support of the Comite Nacional de Empleadas del Hogar. It brings together local organizations throughout the country that fight for domestic workers’ rights. Along with other campaigns, they lobbied for the protection of minimum wages for domestic workers.
  • 1974: Federal Labor Standards Act extends overtime and minimum wage rights to domestic workers. The amendments exclude home caregivers, live-in domestic workers and nannies.
  • 1990s: Most recent generation of domestic worker organizing takes hold, from coast to coast, with organizations like CHIRLA, MUA, and DWU bringing workers together to make change.
  • 2000: California declares March 30th Domestic Worker Appreciation Day.
  • 2004: Domestic Workers Bill of Rights introduced in New York State Assembly.
  • 2006: Domestic Workers Rights legislation passes California State Legislature and is vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • 2007: The National Domestic Workers Alliance is founded at the United States Social Forum.
  • 2009: International Domestic Workers Network is founded by domestic worker groups and unions from around the world to push for the passage of the world’s first Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the International Labor Organization.
  • 2010: New York State passes the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which grants domestic workers paid days off, overtime at the regular rate of pay, protection from discrimination and harassment, and opens up the possibility to collective bargaining by commissioning a study by the New York State Department.

Special thanks to Premilla Nadasen, Associate Professor of History at Queens College-CUNY, for her work in documenting the history of domestic workers and their organizing. Paolina Lu, DWU intern, assisted in the compilation of key historical moments.

Development Process
Origins of the partnership
The Center for Civic Media became engaged with this campaign when Marisa Jahn gave a lunch talk here at the Center on October 27, 2012 with Julian Rubinstein during which Jahn presented early designs for the hotline ( We approached the project as a codesign project and below describe our collaborative development processes.

Defining the user experience

  • The first thing we did was to get representatives from PPH and the Center for Civic Media together in a room to brainstorm about the different things the system should do. We introduced them to the VOIP Drupal capabilities, learned more about DWU and started an informal conversation taking notes on a white board.
  • At first, we envisioned 3 main personae for the system: a Domestic Worker, an Employer and a System Admin. We defined them in terms of different attributes, including: language spoken, ways in which they would likely access information, and user stories to be supported.
  • We assumed that:
    • The Domestic Workers would access the system primarily via regular phone calls and SMS messages on either English or Spanish. As for user stories, they would primarily call in the system to learn more about their rights, report abuse, record positive interactions with employers, and talk with DWU staff.
    • Employers would also interact with the system via telephone, but also via web. We assumed their main language would be English and that their core expectations would include learning about Domestic Workers’ rights, recording stories and connecting with DWU.
    • System Admins would manage the system via its web interface.
  • The main outcome of the meeting was a diagram depicting the kind of user experience individuals should have when calling the system.

Building the scripts
Once we defined the basic user experience of the system, PPH the scripts for the different stories and we moved on to implementing the phone line using VOIP Drupal’s dialplan scripting language. Put simply, VoIP Drupal scripts are made of a basic set of commands that enable the creation of voice menus and define what should be done whenever Drupal makes or receives a phone call. In the case of the the NDNS system, the script welcomes the caller, presents a menu of stories to listen to, and then either plays an episode, records a story, or diverts the call to the DWU office.

The first prototype of the system used VoIP Drupal’s computerized text-to-speech voices. Using text-to-speech with VoIP Drupal at this stage is similar to creating a low-resolution prototype of a traditional website. It’s a way to test the basic structure and functionality of a system without investing very much time in components that require lots of time to craft and refine — in this case, final recordings. As it turns out, in some cases the introduction and acknowledgements were too long. In others, some of the prompts had to be moved to prevent callers from passing through too many voice menus simply to record a story.

As soon as everyone was happy with the phone line flow, PPH went to the studio to record the prompts, the intro messages, and the actual stories of the system. The integration of the recordings with the rest of the script was made it easier by VoIP Voice, a VoIP Drupal module that facilitates the translation and the recording of voice overs on top of anything spoken in the system (

We discovered that finding the right people to record and refine the NDNS performances is time intensive. As a result, we decided to roll out the first version of the system in English-only, acquire feedback from callers, and then implement a second version of the system in both English and Spanish.

Testing Workflow
Continuing our collaborative practices from the design phase, we approached testing collaboratively. Both members of the PPH and Center for Civic Media called and provided feedback about possible changes. We commonly use Redmine to track issues and feature requests at the Center. During the testing phase, Center testers entered issues and requests directly into the issue tracker. The Codesign Facilitator mostly communicated through email and phone calls with PPH to discuss testing issues and input these as issues into Redmine.

Challenges and next steps

  • Recording time. Although VoIP Drupal provides many ways for users to record audio (phone, web-based recorders, etc.), quality recordings do require special skills and time on task.
  • Social systems to support technical possibilities. Initially, we envisioned a system in which callers would be able to report abuse and share stories. However, handling potential abuse reports would require DWU staff to be always available and attentive to new recordings. And, moderating and soliciting relevant and well-told stories would require developing capacity and rules for moderation.
  • Modifiying the hotline flow. VoIP Voice provided a simple mechanisms for System Administrators to handle the different recordings played by the system. However, changes to the actual voice menu structure and functionality provided by the line still required a programmer versed in basic PHP and Dialplan Scripting syntax. If we were to start the system today, we would probably use the Visual VoIP Drupal module (, which provides an easier to use, graphical interface for the creation of VoIP Drupal scripts.
  • We should have separated the content of the script from the actual navigation of the system.

Next Steps
The hotline is now live and receiving calls. Over the coming weeks, PPH will monitor use and feature the hotline in Know Your Rights work throughout New York. Next steps for NDNS include developing audio in Spanish, evaluating how people are using the hotline, and developing the capacity to support callers leaving stories and reporting abuses. Potential next steps for VoIP Drupal include refining the user interface so that users without knowledge of PHP can manage the voice menus.