On Thursday, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights into law, making California the third state in the country to offer labor assurances to home health aides, child care workers, and a series of other in-home helpers whose jobs have gone largely unregulated.
The law will guarantee that domestic workers receive overtime pay and the right to use kitchen facilities. Originally, it also included provisions requiring that such workers are allowed an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep as well as meal and rest breaks, but those provisions were later stripped from the bill.
Brown previously vetoed a similar bill, citing “unanswered questions” about the cost. Advocates for domestic worker rights suspected that his opposition stemmed from pressure from the Chamber of Commerce, which took issue with the two rest provisions that were removed from the bill Brown eventually signed.
New York and Hawaii are the two other states with protections for such employees. Starting in 2015, however, the Fair Labor Standards Act will be expanded to include domestic workers meaning that, nationally, they will be eligible for minimum wage and overtime. It does not include abuse protection, or require any benefits.
Domestic workers suffer rampant abuse and mistreatment at the hands of their employers. Because the industry is largely unregulated, 23 percent of such workers report getting paid less than minimum wage, and virtually none receive any benefits, according to (PDF) the American Community Survey of the Domestic Workers’ Alliance. Thirty-eight percent of workers suffer through work-related injuries, and, most shockingly, “36 percent of live-in workers and 16 percent of workers who do not live in report being threatened, insulted or verbally abused by an employer.”
At its core, the fight for domestic worker protection is a women’s and immigrants’ rights issue. Ninety-five percent of nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners are women, and 46 percent are foreign born. Even in states where the domestic workers’ bill of rights has been enacted, these immigrant women aren’t protected from abuse. Undocumented workers make up a huge swath of the domestic work field, and they are excluded from this law.