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April 30, 2013

Last year, New York became the first American state to legislate basic workplace protections for domestic workers and caregivers. California, with its proposed bill AB889, may become the second.

AB889 is also known as the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. It would grant to household workers such as nannies and housekeepers certain basic employment rights, including minimum wage protection, overtime and vacation pay, sick leave, proper meal and rest breaks, and health insurance benefits. The bill would also apply to paid caregivers.

Research has shown that California domestic workers tend to be marginalized by society and their employers. Inadequate or withheld wages, abrupt termination, and safety hazards are common occurrences. So, unconscionably, are sexual assault and various forms of abuse.

Perhaps yesterday’s high-profile bombshell about former Gov. Schwarzenegger’s “love-child” with his housekeeper will raise the visibility of domestic workers’ issues with the public.

In any case, clearly the time for basic protections for live-in workers has come. The safeguards that AB889 would put in place would not only discourage mistreatment of vulnerable workers. Those safeguards would also promote stability in important sectors of California’s economy. A lot of people work as domestics and as caregivers. And it’s time society, and the law, recognized that fact.

One Bay Area housekeeper, Maria Elena, put it this way: “We deserve respect just like all the other workers.”

It isn’t possible, of course, to legislate respect. But AB889 would break important ground in integrating household workers into the mainstream of American society.

Source: “Equal rights for domestic workers,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5-13-11

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