Protecting our protectors

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By Michael Kaufman, Staff Attorney

A Democratic consultant ignited a firestorm several months ago when she questioned whether Ann Romney – who had tweeted that raising five children had been “hard work” – had “actually worked a day in her life.” Commentators from both sides of the aisle roundly criticized the consultant. The message was clear: taking care of a family is real work, and our society should value domestic work as much as paycheck-earning employment.

Unfortunately, the California labor code doesn’t yet recognize this basic principle: domestic workers, including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers, are excluded from some of the most basic labor protections under California law. The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (AB 889) extends the most important protections like overtime, meal and rest breaks, and health and safety coverage to domestic workers. It would level the playing field and make life safer and healthier for domestic workers. And it’s currently sitting on Governor Brown’s desk waiting for his signature or veto.

California domestic workers are primarily immigrant women. Due to the isolated nature of their work, these workers are highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including horrific acts of human trafficking and sexual assault. Despite these vulnerabilities, California law actually provides fewer protections in the domestic work industry than most other areas of employment. This gap not only deprives hardworking people of the wages and basic working conditions to which they are entitled, but also perpetuates and reinforces notions that domestic work is not as valuable as “real work” that invite the type of abuse that is rife in the industry.

Domestic workers’ exclusion from fundamental labor protections is no oversight. It’s actually the shameful legacy of the struggle to pass the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which was only able to garner congressional support after domestic work was excluded from its coverage. The reason? Many Southern congressmen refused to cover domestic work industry, which was at the time predominantly African-American.

The ACLU stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the California Domestic Worker Coalition, their numerous supporters, and even comedienne Amy Poehler in urging Governor Brown to sign AB 889. We entrust domestic workers with protecting the most important things our lives: our loved ones and our homes. Now it’s time for California law to protect them.

 

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