On Wednesday, the California Assembly approved AB 241, the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights. The bill, which will now be considered by the California Senate, seeks to extend basic labor protections to domestic workers—primarily immigrant women—including overtime, meal and rest breaks, three personal days per year, and access to kitchen facilities while working inside of private homes.
But passing the bill through the state legislature has not been the challenge for the California domestic workers’ movement. Similar bills have twice passed the California state assembly and senate, in 2006 and 2012. The legislation died each time by being vetoed after it reached the governor’s desk.
Shocking many domestic workers’ advocates, Gov. Jerry Brown, a progressive, vetoed the 2012 bill late last year, citing concerns about how the legislation would affect lower-income disabled persons who hire domestic caregivers.
The 2006 legislation was vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Schwarzenegger also famously fathered a child with his housekeeper.)
It remains unclear whether Gov. Brown will again veto a version of the legislation. No meetings have taken place between the bill’s chief sponsor, Assembly member Tom Ammiano, and Gov. Brown regarding the measure. “The discussions so far have been with our staff and Brown staff and Mr. Ammiano has met with the head of Labor, I believe,” Ammiano’s communications director, Carlos Alcala, told RH Reality Check in an email. Alcala did not comment on whether there is evidence Gov. Brown may be swayed this time around.
The all-powerful veto has a direct impact on California’s domestic workers. Long hidden in the shadows of picket fences and expensive apartments, and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse at the hands of their employers, domestic workers in California and throughout the United States are generally excluded from labor protections.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, a group whose California advocates have been fighting to pass a state domestic workers’ bill of rights for a decade, found in a recent report that 25 percent of domestic workers surveyed are paid less than California’s minimum wage. Ninety-one percent of workers do not receive overtime pay, despite working long hours without breaks, 78 percent do not receive unpaid time off to see a doctor, and 59 percent work when they are sick or injured. Among workers who were fired from a domestic work job, 22 percent said they were fired for calling in sick or for missing work to take care of a family member. Many also reported high levels of “extreme food insecurity.”
“If we can’t pass this bill this year and get it signed, we will owe an explanation to the workers. These workers, who are mostly women, keep our households running smoothly, care for our children, and enable people with disabilities to live at home and remain engaged in our communities,” Ammiano said in a statement. “Why shouldn’t they have overtime protections like the average barista or gas station attendant?”