Thursday, October 4, 2012

Let Them Eat Bed Pans! Jerry Brown Vetoes Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Jerry Brown's Buffet for Domestic Workers (Image from Flickr, by dirty black chucks)

California’s “pro-labor” governor Jerry Brown has vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (AB 889), authored by Tom Ammiano (San Francisco) and Fiona Ma (Oakland). The law would have allowed nannies, maids, home health care workers and other full-time domestic workers to cook their own meals in their employers’ kitchens and entitled them to the same overtime pay, guaranteed breaks, sick leave and workers compensation privileges already granted to most other workers.

According to a report by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, 90% of the domestic workforce (93% of whom are female) has never received overtime pay. Over 90% reported having their meal breaks cut short or denied entirely. 75% of the child care workers and 35% of the housekeepers in Los Angeles County were paid less than the minimum wage.

Yet, even if the law had passed, domestic workers would have remained among the lowest paid and most abused employees in the state. The law said nothing about a reasonable living wage. Rather, it said that “the Department of Industrial Relations may (emphasis added by Modern School) apply the provisions of Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order 15 to domestic work employees,” which would have meant that the state minimum wage might be paid to domestic workers. Yet even if they were paid the minimum wage, this would not be sufficient to support a family in most of the state’s expensive cities.

AB 889 would have done very little to improve the status or material security of domestic workers, but, even so, it was too much for the private health care industry, which feared that these new rights would lower their bottom lines. It was also too much for some organizations representing recipients of home health care which feared that the quality of their constituents’ care would be diminished. However, the solution isn’t to treat domestic workers like serfs. Domestic services can and should be fully subsidized by the rest of society for those who need their services, but cannot afford them.

Then again, if we lived in a sane society, everyone would have equal access to whatever medical care they needed, as well as all the other necessities of life, and no one would be working for minimum wage or fighting for the right to a lunch break.

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