Domestic Workers, Labor Win Bill of Rights in California

LOS ANGELES—With a final mass rally during the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles and a lobbying blitz in the state capitol of Sacramento, domestic workers and union allies won California legislative votes for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The measure, approved 22-12 in the State Senate on Sept. 13, after prior approval in the Assembly, headed for Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who has promised to sign it.  When he does, California will join New York in enacting the law.  Other states, notably Illinois and Massachusetts, are on the screen for the workers’ campaign.

“Every day, 800,000 domestic workers go to work that makes all other work possible,” Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told the early morning press conference/demonstration on Sept. 10 during the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles.  “Yet they’re the most vulnerable.  We have workers here in L.A. who are working 24-hour shifts for $35 a day.  That ends now!”

“We’re here to say ‘no more.’  Domestic work is real work and domestic workers are part of the labor movement and part of a growing movement to say we demand an economy that takes care of all of us.”

The workers unfurled a large banner demanding the state senators pass Assembly Bill 241, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.  The measure regulates work hours for domestic workers, extends overtime pay rights to them, updates the definition of who is a domestic worker and establishes specific employment rights for them.

“All domestic workers in the world have a very difficult situation,” said Sayuti, Secretary-Treasurer of the Indonesian Domestic Workers Union.  Her members share the Californians’ problems: “They are outside labor law.  They have low wages, no holidays, no protection.  We need solidarity from everyone to pass” the California law.  AFSCME and the California AFL-CIO also strongly backed it.

“This is an emotional issue,” said California AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, after comforting one worker who could barely choke out her statement through her sobs as she recounted her working conditions.  “They take care of the people we love.  It’s hard work.  It’s isolated work.  So that’s why we support this bill.  It’s one small step to provide protections these workers don’t have that others do.”

The measure is still stuck in Illinois legislative committees, Myrla Baldonado, a former home health care worker who is now an organizer with Latino Union in Chicago, told Press Associates Union News Service.   “Our bill is mostly about exclusion from the minimum wage and overtime pay.  Workers hired by state agencies get $13” an hour.  “The others get an average of $4.58 and the highest paid gets $6.  It’s poverty level.”