Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bill gives domestic workers union-style work rules - Sacramento Bee

Nannies, housekeepers, child care providers and caregivers in California would be eligible for overtime and meal breaks under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The bill also would require that live-in workers be compensated if their eight-hour rest period was interrupted. Regulations governing their working conditions would be set by the state Department of Industrial Relations by January 2014.

California would be the second state, after New York, to adopt such rules, said the bill's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

Sen. Kevin de Leon said he was confident he had the votes Wednesday, despite falling short on an initial Senate roll call after a lengthy debate that split along partisan lines. An earlier version cleared the Assembly in June on a 49-28 vote.

There is no firm estimate of how many workers might be affected.

The bill says the domestic worker field is dominated by immigrants and women, and the bill seeks to address their "abuse and exploitation." It says they face a litany of workplace woes, including working long hours for low wages and a lack of job security.

"In the worst cases, domestic workers are verbally and physically abused or sexually assaulted, forced to sleep in conditions unfit for human habitation, and stripped of their privacy and dignity," the bill analysis states.

De Leon noted that his mother was a housekeeper and said the bill recognizes the dignity of such workers.

"These women deserve better - much, much better. ... Decent wages, a safe and healthy workplace and workers' compensation," he said.

The bill, AB889, has drawn some high-profile support, including a videotaped endorsement from comedian Amy Poehler, who appears in television's "Parks and Recreation."

Sen. Doug La Malfa said the legislation seems more intent on creating a new class of employees for unions to organize. Dozens of organizations lined up on each side of the measure, with a general split between labor supporting the bill and management opposed.

La Malfa and Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, also said the bill's requirements are impractical.

"How are you supposed to provide for that meal and rest break period? Do you have to hire a second baby sitter? ... Let's get real here," said La Malfa, R-Willows. "This is a solution in search of a problem, hurting relationships people have with their home care worker, with their baby sitter."

Gaines also wondered how child care workers would take time off in the midst of their duties without endangering their charges. He also said the poor economy and high unemployment rate makes it a poor time to increase costs and regulation on workers.

"I think back to raising our children ... and what the impact would be of our baby sitter taking a break while our six kids were wreaking havoc within the home," Gaines said. "It would be complete bedlam."

De Leon countered that the bill has exemptions for caregivers who are close family members such as parents and children, as well as anyone under age 18 - "anyone who would be perceived as a baby sitter." However, it is unclear when it would apply to other child care providers, and de Leon said some provisions would remain uncertain until the regulations are developed to flesh out the requirements in the bill.

The bill also exempts those carrying for the developmentally disabled and others with special needs, though Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Lake Forest, said it should also exempt those who care for the fragile elderly.

The measure drew support from Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, who said it is unrealistic to expect caregivers to do their best without meals or rest breaks.

It was opposed by Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, who said it is one more indication that the Legislature is "regulation happy."

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