SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have provided overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections to an estimated 200,000 caregivers, nannies and house cleaners in California.
Brown called their work a “noble endeavor” and said they deserve fair pay and safe working conditions.
But the Democratic governor said the bill “raises a number of unanswered questions,” prompting him to reject the measure. It was among dozens of bills he acted on in the final hours before his midnight deadline to consider bills sent to him this fall by the Legislature.
Advocates said the legislation, dubbed the Domestic Workers of Bill of Rights, is necessary to protect a primarily female, immigrant workforce from abuse. They were successful in persuading New York lawmakers to pass similar legislation in 2010.
Among other things, the bill would have required that live-in workers be compensated if their rest period was interrupted during an eight-hour period and eased eligibility requirements for workers’ compensation.
The California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed AB889. They argued that labor laws carve out an exception for domestic workers for a reason: providing meal breaks and uninterrupted rest periods for caretakers is impractical at best and dangerous at worst.
It was unclear how the legislation by Assemblymen Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, would have been enforced and whether it would have extended to part-time workers such as baby sitters. It called for the Department of Industrial Relations to set regulations by January 2014.
Brown outlined his own list of eight questions in a veto message.
They include the effect of increased costs he said could burden the disabled and elderly and their families. He also suggested the additional cost could mean fewer jobs for domestic workers and strain state regulators trying to enforce the requirements. Moreover, he said, a drafting error would have cost the state more than $200 million annually because the bill would have applied to In-Home Supportive Service workers.
“In the face of consequences both unknown and unintended, I find it more prudent to do the studies before considering an untested legal regime for those that work in our homes,” Brown wrote.
California has become a focal point in the national debate over domestic worker protections because of its size and large immigrant workforce. The bill has drawn some high-profile support, including a videotaped endorsement from comedian and “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance_ an advocacy group with 35 local affiliates around the country_ has used popularity of the Oscar-nominated film “The Help” to power a national campaign that urges fans to “be the help.” The group is helping promote similar laws in Massachusetts, Illinois and Hawaii.
New York is the only state that already has implemented union-style rights for domestic workers. Those regulations have led to back pay and overtime penalty awards, according to the Urban Justice Center, which provides legal assistance to domestic workers in Manhattan.
Last year, President Barack Obama proposed giving home aides additional labor protections such as overtime pay. The Labor Department took comments on the change, which is now under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Household workers and agricultural laborers were left out of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act that established basic labor protections so the legislation would win support from Southern lawmakers.
The California bill was introduced in 2011 but stalled in the Senate for a year before passing both houses on party line votes.
“For decades we have tirelessly cared for California’s homes, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities without the protection of basic rights,” Sylvia Lopez, a worker with the California Domestic Workers Coalition, said in a statement. She called Brown’s veto “a huge disappointment.”
Ammiano, in a statement distributed by the coalition, said Brown “missed an opportunity to prove himself as a leader in civil rights.”
Democrats argued that workers who toil within homes already face a litany of woes, including low wages and lack of job security, and should enjoy the same legal protections as other laborers.
Republicans said the legislation was intended primarily to create a new class of employees for unions to organize and said it ignored the realities of caretaking jobs.
The bill has exemptions for workers who are caring for the developmentally disabled and also excludes baby sitters under age 18.
Home health and personal care aides are among the fastest-growing jobs in the country, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this story.
The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday.
The bill, designed for workers who act as babysitters and homecare providers, would have mandated rest and meal breaks and overtime pay to domestic workers in California, making it the second state in the country after New York to do so.
“It was a big betrayal,” an angry-sounding Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, one of the bill’s co-authors, said in a phone interview Monday. “Maybe he lived an entitled upbringing,” Ammiano said, referring to Brown. “He should be able to step back and see the situation that these people are involved in — with no protection.”
In order to simplify the bill and clarify that the workers were to be included as part of the labor force, the final version was stripped of any specific regulations. The Department of Industrial Relations would have been responsible for specifying when workers would take breaks, time off and receive overtime.
Gov. Brown said the bill was a “noble endeavor” to help improve the circumstances of domestic workers, however, the bill raised some unanswered questions.
“What will be the economic and human impact on the disabled or elderly person and their family of requiring overtime, rest and meal periods for attendants who provide 24 hour care?” Brown stated in his veto message. “What will be the additional costs and what is the financial capacity of those taking care of loved ones in the last years of life?”
Ammiano and domestic workers in the area will continue to lobby for changes to the labor laws governing their work, which includes campaigning to ensure that employers are aware of their responsibilities to provide a just and safe workplace for their employees.
“We just feel very betrayed,” said Andrea Mercado, political director of Mujeres Unidas y Activas, an organization with offices in San Francisco and Oakland that focuses on issues related to Latina immigrant women like immigration laws, workers’ rights and social services. “Big movements create the context for great acts of leadership. We had the opportunity to lead the state and to lead the nation, and Governor Brown made the unfortunate decision not to.”
The California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (CDWBR) would provide domestic workers with:
Equal overtime pay. Currently, personal attendants are excluded from overtime rights and live-in domestic workers receive less protection under overtime laws. The CDWBR would include ALL domestic workers in California’s overtime protections of time and a half after eight hours in one workday and 40 hours in one workweek and double time after 12 hours in one workday.
Equal right to a safe and healthy workplace. Domestic workers are currently excluded from protection under California’s Occupational Safety & Health Act (CAL-OSHA). The CDWBR would extend CAL-OSHA protection to ALL domestic workers.
Equal right to worker’s compensation. Domestic workers are carved out of California’s worker’s compensation laws when they work in private households less than 52 hours or earn less than $100 in the previous 90 days. The CDWBR would cover ALL domestic workers under California’s worker’s compensation laws.
Equal right to reporting time pay. Personal attendants currently have no right to reporting time pay, when they show up to work and their employer cancels the job. The CDWBR would extend reporting time pay rights that most California workers enjoy to personal attendants.
Equal right to notice before termination. Unlike California’s commercial and industrial employers of seventy five of more employees, domestic worker employers have no obligation to provide their worker advanced notice before terminating her services. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable since when terminated, they often lose their job and home at the same time. The CDWBR would require at least twenty one days advanced notice before termination or severance pay in lieu of notice.
Right to Five hours uninterrupted sleep under adequate conditions. No law currently guarantees domestic workers the right to uninterrupted sleep. Domestic workers often labor around the clock placing themselves and the people they care for at risk of sickness and unintentional mistakes caused by exhaustion. The CDWBR would guarantee domestic workers at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep under adequate conditions.
Right to cook one’s own food. Unlike most California workers, domestic workers are often confined to the home of their employer and are forced to eat food that is unhealthy or not to their liking. The CDWBR would grant domestic workers the right to make basic decisions regarding the type of food they eat.
Right to annual cost of living wage increase. The CDWBR would provide annual cost of living increases for domestic workers who cannot collectively bargain for this modest benefit in a notoriously low-paid industry.
Right to paid vacations. The CDWBR would provide paid vacation days to domestic workers so that in addition to caring for their employer’s family, they also have time to care for their own loved ones.
Right to paid sick days. The CDWBR would provide paid sick days to domestic workers so they can recover from illness and receive medical care. This right not only benefits the domestic worker but also protects the health of employers and their family members.