SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California households that employ cleaners or nannies could soon be required to comply with safety standards similar to other workplaces under a bill proposed in the state Legislature.
Domestic workers in California don’t have the same safety protections required by law for many employees in case they get injured or sick on the job. A bill by Democratic state Sen. María Elena Durazo would give those hired by private employers to do domestic work protections under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act. The legislation would not apply to domestic work paid for by the government.
On Wednesday, domestic workers came from across California to voice their support for the legislation at the state Capitol, where some held up a sign in Spanish that read, “Everyone Deserves a Safe Workplace.”
Durazo, who represents central Los Angeles, noted the symbolism of the gathering taking place on the first day of Women’s History Month. She said she hopes lawmakers take action to protect a sector of the workforce made up largely of women of color.
“Women’s work needs to be treated just as important as any other work,” she said.
Nearly 92% of domestic workers in the United States are women, and more than half are Black, Hispanic or Asian American, the Economic Policy Institute estimated in 2020.
“Domestic work is important work, and these workers deserve all of the rights and protections afforded to workers in other industries,” said Anna Pisarello, a teacher who employs a nanny to take care of her two children.
In recent years, supporters of these types of protections have made strides to increase safety for domestic workers, a group hit hard during the pandemic, who are particularly susceptible to getting hurt or sick from work.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law in 2021 protecting these workers under a state human rights law. But in Virginia, lawmakers tried and failed to pass a bill that same year that would have included these workers in an employee protection law.
In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2020, citing the burden on private employers to comply with state worker safety law regulations. In 2021, he signed a bill that created an advisory committee that submitted a list of recommendations to the Legislature in January, which included a financial assistance program to help employers with the cost of making sure their home is safe to work in.
If the bill introduced last month becomes law, the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health would have to come up with standards by July 1, 2024, to help employers comply with requirements. Employers would then have to comply with regulations by Jan. 1, 2025. The legislation would also create a program to give grants to employers who can use the money to make sure their home is safe for workers.
Martha Herrera, who cleans houses and takes care of children in San Francisco, said she used to look after a girl with autism between the time she was 4 to 8 years old. That included giving her baths and carrying her to the bathroom, she said. One day, the girl almost fell in the shower, and Herrera moved to catch her. As a result, Herrera started to feel a pain in her waist.
After Herrera’s employers paid her for her work and gave her $300 for medicine, she was unable to work for three months because of the pain, she said.
“This experience motivated me to continue to fight for the rights of domestic workers,” said Herrera, who is also a member of the domestic worker policy advisory committee.
Mariko Yoshihara, a lawyer and policy director with the California Employment Lawyers Association, said domestic workers should have been given these protections a long time ago.
“The fact that there is one categorical exclusion in our health and safety laws specifically for domestic workers is just unjust,” she said.
Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.