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California Domestic Workers Demand Bill of Rights

In California, advocates, workers and politicians are trying to pass into law a bill that protects the rights of domestic workers.

Workers and advocates host Mother's Day brunch with legislators to urge passage of bill -   May 14, 13

 Full Episode here


Maria Leal, Domestic Worker: (Translation from Spanish) The message I want to give to the Governor is that on this occasion he needs to support us and our bill of rights because it is extremely important for us as domestic workers to pass this bill because we need breaks, we need lunch, we need an increase in pay. We need many things. I can't imagine that it would be a challenge for him to support us.

Ruiz: Advocates held a Mothers Day brunch, inviting lawmakers to commit support for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Rights and protections for domestic workers are excluded from existing labour laws. They're often paid less than minimum wage, working without breaks and other basic rights. There are an estimated 200,000 domestic workers in California, including nannies, housecleaners and caregivers.

Katie Joaquin, California Domestic Workers Coalition: Right now in California, there's domestic workers that remain excluded from the most basic of protections. We're talking about overtime, the right to have a meal break, the right to have a rest break. This is traces all the way back to 1938 when the first federal labor law was passed. Domestic workers were left out along with farm workers. This is because the African Americans who at the time were the domestic workers and were the people working in the field were still being discriminated against. There were Southern lawmakers who didn't want to open the doors of equality to them and to this day domestic workers are still the ones who are left behind. There's some domestic workers that are caring for the elderly , caring for people with disabilities, caring for children and they're still not having protections to be able to have a rest break after four hours of work. And so this bill is about fixing that. We feel like this bill is a basic thing that isn't really reaching for the sky it's not reaching too high. It's asking for basic human rights for people who do really important work for California.

Ruiz: Assemblymember Tom Ammiano is the author of Assembly Bill 241 that provides basic rights for domestic workers.

Tom Ammiano, Assemblymember 17th District: In many ways it's a women's issue, a very strong women's issue, obviously an immigrants rights issue, and here in California, not exclusively a Latino issue. Because we have many domestic workers who are Filipino and Asian also African American. So the idea that someone can work isolated in someone else's house and not have any rights other than dealing with their employer, most likely they're low income, they need that job even if it's

a pittance of a pay. They're afraid they'll be deported and they've been threatened with that if they don't stay on and ignore their own family . This is kind of like plantation politics.

Ruiz: Senator Leland Yee says the bill has advantages for workers and employers.

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Leland Yee, Senator, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties: What it also does is to establish a formal relationship between the employer and employee so that you don't have a situation where the employee, the domestic worker, is scratching his or her head saying well gee what is it that the employer is supposed to do for me? What are the terms and conditions of this particular employment? And then on the other side, for the employer they don't have to scratch their head and say well what is it that I am expecting from them? And so there's some clarity in that relationship ? working conditions, salaries, all kinds of other things that go on with any relationship between an employer and employee.

Ruiz: Meg Yardley is a parent who relies on domestic workers and supports the bill.

Meg Yardley, Employer of a Domestic Worker: I can't imagine what I'd have to do if I had to make a choice between being at home and going to work, because I love the work that I do. I think for me, knowing that my daughter is in good hands, that she's being taken care of , that someone's looking after her, and giving her love and attention and all of that means that I can go to work and do my job which I also really love without worrying about my daughter's care and what's happening to her.

Ruiz: Assemblyman Ammiano introduced a similar bill in 2011. It was passed by the Assembly and Senate, but vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Ammiano: We need the Governor to change his mind. Apparently he has very strong personal feelings that in some ways this issue is a trivial issue. While the Bill passed in both Houses, he still vetoed it. So we have resubmitted the Bill. We are ready to negotiate and accommodate. He has not extended us a meeting? a personal meeting? which is protocol around here. We're working with his aides but he's really the guy.

Ruiz: In an April 24 hearing, individual home care companies and advocacy group California Association for Health Services at Home or CAHSAH said the bill would "drastically increase the costs of home care and make live-in care completely unaffordable," especially for the elderly and disabled. Thus, clients would turn to an underground economy.

Yardley: I understand the concerns that people have about pay because it is really difficult to afford good care. But I also think that we can't make that decision on the backs of domestic workers. I think that any parent can probably tell you that they're a better parent when they'd have meal and rest breaks, when they've had enough sleep, when they've had a chance to eat something or sit down for a few minutes,

when you're not overly stressed about money or how to get by, when you're being fairly paid, when you don't have to work long hours. I certainly know that I'm a better parent when all of those conditions are met. So that makes me believe that I want my childcare provider to have the same conditions because I think that they're going to provide better care for my child. So I really think that this is really about trying to find a win-win, when we can provide quality care for our children and our families, but also provide dignity, respect and rights for the people that are providing the care.

Ruiz: A report distributed that day called Home Economics surveyed over 2,000 domestic workers nationally. The research team included the National Domestic Workers Alliance, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Data Center. It documents serious and widespread mistreatment and exploitation of domestic workers throughout the US. Guillermina Castellanos worked extensively on the report.

Guillermina Castellanos, La Colectiva de Mujeres (Translation from Spanish): For those of us who work with domestic workers, showing this report has given us a legitimacy that we didn't have before. Now, when we do legislative visits, we give this report to legislators and it gives us confidence. The report also helped involve other organizations in the fight for domestic workers rights. It strengthened organizations across the country, which is an important goal of the national alliance. This is historic, in a country that has never talked about domestic workers. For us, it's extremely important to have a report of this magnitude that talks about the experience of domestic workers.

Ruiz: Critical votes for the Bill of Rights in California are coming up. A similar bill is now a law in New York and seven states including California are moving to pass similar measures. This is part of a national Domestic Workers Rights campaign. Many domestic workers are mothers themselves and want nothing more on this Mother's Day than equal rights. This Dyan Ruiz The Real News Network.