California News

California bill aims to improve working conditions for domestic workers

Friday, August 31, 2012

Nannies, housekeepers and caregivers may soon have union-style rights in California. A bill that would make them eligible for overtime and meal breaks passed the state legislature and is heading to the governor.

"That is a good chance for us to be able to have protections, respect and dignity," said caregiver Maria "Boots" Chavez.

AB889, the bill making its way through the legislature, would benefit domestic workers like Chavez, who said for the last 10 years, she has cared for bedridden patients in their homes, often having to work through the night with very little sleep for $70 to $100 a day.

"One of the things we are fighting for is to have at least five to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep," said Chavez.

If the bill becomes law, the Department of Industrial Relations will have until January 2014 to develop appropriate guidelines for employers regarding meal breaks and overtime pay for household employees. Seth Weiner, who supports the bill, said he welcomes the new regulations.

"I think this bill is going to do a lot to help create a guideline for employers to know how to make decisions, to know what they can do and should be doing to be good employers," said Weiner.

Former nanny and current housekeeper Luz Amelia Arevano said when she was first hired, she was paid $250 a week to care for a newborn and keep a home clean. The job gave her little time to rest. Arevano believes AB889 would put in place much needed protections.

But there is plenty of opposition to the bill. Some critics said the bill's requirements are impractical and its timing is bad. With a sluggish economy and high unemployment rate, households don't need increased costs and regulations.

"You don't take a break with a 2-year-old. I'm a mom of four kids. You can't take a break, and the person who's going to suffer are those children," said state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine). "What's going to happen is the person who has the children is going to end up having to hire two different people, and that's going to be cost prohibitive for people."

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