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Domestic workers in California ramp up their case for labor protection rights

Andrea Wadarama paints a banner to support support Chirla's Household Workers Committee.
Andrea Wadarama paints a banner to support support Chirla's Household Workers Committee.
Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

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Across California domestic workers and their supporters are ramping up pressure on Governor Brown to sign Assembly Bill 889 by Sunday.

The bill would grant paid rest periods, payment for overtime hours, and guaranteed uninterrupted sleep if the worker lives with her employer. The governor's signature on AB 889 would make California the second state in the country to enact labor protections for nannies, caregivers and housekeepers.

Andrea Wadarama, a veteran nanny and house cleaner, joined with the organizing group CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights Los Angeles) to rally for the bill. She says employers have violated her rights many times over the years.

But she adds,"When you have few options and are very much in need of work, there are times when you will work for very little money."

Rosa Maria Segura, an organizer with CHIRLA, admits that all the protections the workers want are not in this bill. Yet she describes AB 889 as a "stepping stone to recognize that domestic workers need to be protected as any other worker."

Opponents of the bill include the California Chamber of Commerce and agencies that hire domestic workers. Robert Nuddleman is a San Jose-based employment lawyer. He says that this bill would add a tremendous bureaucratic burden to employers.

Furthermore, the bill is unnecessary, Nuddleman contends, because domestic workers "already have these rights."

Katie Joaquin of the California Domestic Workers Coalition disagrees.

"While there is a wage order that exists for housekeepers, gardeners and cooks, many personal attendants who are nannies and caregivers doing 80 percent or more of their time on personal attendant duties are excluded from the protections," she said.

The domestic work industry is unusual because the employers outnumber the employees.

Seth Lennon Weiner of Culver City employs a house cleaner. "I do not think that domestic worker employers as a group are cognizant of the power that we hold," says Weiner. He believes AB 889 is a step toward helping individuals and families who hire domestic workers do right by them.