Basic Rights for Calif.’s Domestic Workers A Signature Away

By Shwanika Narayan, New America Media

Nannies, housekeepers, caregivers and other domestic workers in California will enjoy better working conditions, meals and rest breaks and overtime pay, thanks to a landmark bill that awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (AB 889), authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, offers the almost 200,000 domestic workers in California basic labor rights they have been excluded from for decades.

If signed into law, California will become only the second state in the country, after New York, which will extend labor protections to domestic workers.

“We’re really happy to be a part of this historic moment,” says Beatrice Herrera from People Organized to Win Employment Rights. “We were one of the organizations that was a part of the hearing committee and it was a struggle to get the bill out of appropriations so the outcome from the State Senate is well received.”

Currently, domestic workers are excluded from labor laws that other workers are entitled to. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 that sets guidelines on labor disputes between employees and employers excludes domestic workers and farm workers. And the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that guarantees American workers the right to minimum wage, overtime and a day of rest each week leaves out domestic workers.

“It’s because a lot of people don’t consider my work real work,” says domestic worker Eva Hernandez (not her real name). “It is a lot of hard work, a lot of long hours so even having something as small as minimum wage will make a big difference.”

Domestic workers are mostly women and many are immigrants, some of whom are undocumented. They are housekeepers, babysitters and caregivers. Due to the private nature of their work, many suffer in silence even in the face of verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

The new law will give domestic workers the right to meal and rest breaks of 30 minutes for every five hours of work, and 10 minutes for every four hours of work. They will also be entitled to overtime pay. Those in live-in workplaces or who work 24-hour shifts will have the right to eight hours of continuous sleep. Those who work for more than five hours will be permitted to use their employer’s kitchen facility to cook their own food at no cost.

“It’s really basic rights that some of us who already enjoy these things take for granted,” notes Herrera. “This is about the quality of life. Domestic work is real work and all workers should have basic labor protections.”

Opponents of the bill say that many provisions will be unmanageable in a domestic setting and can actually cause more harm to domestic workers. They may lose their jobs, or not be hired if employers who feel they cannot afford the additional cost they will incur trying to comply with the law.

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September 6, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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