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California Gov. Vetoes Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

October 4, 2012

An estimated 200,000 California domestic workers, including some providing personal care to elders and people with disabilities, were denied the right to overtime pay and other basic legal protections when Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a “domestic workers’ bill of rights” on Sept. 30.

In a letter (pdf) to the state assembly, Brown said that the bill raised too many “unanswered questions” — about enforcement, the bill’s effect on job quality, and its “economic and human impact on the disabled or elderly person and their family” — to be a viable law.

Brown also called into question whether the bill would provide overtime pay for home care aides in California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, though language in the bill specifically excluded these workers.

Although the bill called for those “unanswered questions” to be studied by the California Department of Industrial Relations, Brown argued that they needed to be answered in full before the state introduced any new rights for domestic workers.

“We were surprised he raised those questions, given that it was clear we would work through [them] during the regulatory process,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), in an interview with RH Reality Check.

The NDWA heavily promoted the bill, and is working to pass similar legislation in Illinois, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. In 2010, New York became the first state to pass a domestic workers’ bill of rights into law.

Supporters Express Disappointment

The law would have required employers to pay domestic workers time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours. It also would have given domestic workers the right to take breaks for eating and resting, and would have mandated that employers of live-in workers provide them with a place to sleep.

Activists and lawmakers who supported the bill said they felt that Brown had turned its back on California’s workforce of domestic workers — many of whom are female immigrants who earn poverty-level wages.

“We believe that great movements create the context for great acts of leadership, and we created this opportunity for [Brown] to lead the nation towards progress and equality for a growing workforce of women,” California Domestic Workers Coalition Director Andrea Cristina Mercado told the Huffington Post. “And he made a very unfortunate choice.”

“It was a big betrayal,” said Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D), one of the bill’s co-authors. Brown “should be able to step back and see the situation that these people are involved in — with no protection,” he told Oakland North.

The PHI Campaign for Fair Pay is waging a similar battle to ensure minimum-wage and overtime protections for all home care workers in the U.S. For more information, visit the Campaign for Fair Pay home page.

– by Matthew Ozga

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