Those who care for your children, your elderly or disabled family members, or do other domestic work in the home may soon have an added layer of protection to ensure that they receive the same benefits as other workers in California. The state’s Senate passed AB 241, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which will make it illegal to refuse to provide overtime pay to house cleaners and care givers.
If the bill is signed into law, that would make California the third state in the union to extend protection to domestic workers, following the leads of New York and Hawaii. Massachusetts and Illinois are considering similar legislation as well.
Unfortunately, the bill becoming law isn’t a guarantee. California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last session.
Unlike many other jobs, the basic duties that constitute domestic work often leave those who are employed without the guaranteed benefits that other wage earners receive, such as overtime, adequate and separate breaks and time off, or even living areas for those employees who reside in the home they work in. The fact that the industry is dominated by a mostly female and often immigrant labor force also makes it that much more ripe for wage abuse, according to the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Yet the battle to bring domestic workers equal wage and benefit protections has been slow moving. A recent attempt in Oregon failed just last July, despite a much less ambitious scope that addressed only the plight of nannies and not all domestic workers. The bill died in the Senate, and the language in the debate showed that many involved think of the people who care for their children as leading a cushy existence that needs little in the way of protection.
“Some legislators raised concerns about whether they’d have to still pay their nanny if she comes to Disneyland to care for the children and she is given Mickey Mouse ears,” state Rep. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), told reporter Sheila Bapat.
According to Bapat, Oregon’s failure was that the bill was supported by some members of the legislature, but not by the grassroots, especially not the state’s domestic workers themselves, who were not engaged and brought into the battle. The same can’t be said for the group in California. In August, the California Domestic Workers Coalition held a “Drive for Dignity” that brought workers and their supporters out all across the state, urging them to contact Gov. Brown and demand he support the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.
Now, it is in the Governor’s hands. Although Gov. Brown vetoed a previous bill, this modified, somewhat “watered down” version may be more successful. The bill only addresses overtime and does not include protections for meals and rest breaks. Even with those limits, Republicans still opposed it, saying that it would be too costly to get a caregiver for the elderly, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Will the Governor agree? We’ll have to wait for his signature or veto to find out. He has until October 13th to sign.
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