Domestic workers, employers and their families gathered at the Women’s Building this Sunday in support of a new Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
Introduced by California assembly member Tom Ammiano last month, the bill would provide basic job protections for nannies, caregivers and housekeepers, regardless of immigration status.
Historically, domestic workers have not been included in many labor laws. California’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (CAL-OSHA) doesn’t apply to them. In many cases, California overtime law does not apply, either — especially in the case of live-in workers. If signed into law, the legislation will be the second of its kind. New York state enacted a similar law last August.
If the bill is passed, domestic workers will be entitled to a roster of benefits familiar to most other workers: overtime pay, paid vacation, meal and rest breaks, workers compensation, advance notice of termination.
It’s that last one that would be most welcome to Esmeralda Montufar, a domestic worker from Graton Day Labor Center in Santa Rosa, who told the crowd that she had once been fired via Post-It note. She arrived at work one morning to find a note that read “No work today” on the front door, even though her employer was home.
“After the family invited my husband and me over for Christmas dinner, the note confused me,” Montaf said through a translator. “I took it home to my husband because I didn’t know what to do. I kept thinking, ‘Are we a part of this family or are we not?’”
Other aspects of the bill illuminate the particular strangeness of working in a person’s home, such as the right, for live-in employees, to eight hours of sleep and access to kitchen facilities.
“So many of us want to be good employers but we don’t know how,” said Jessica Lehman, leadership organizer for Hand in Hand, who sponsored the event along with Mujeres Activas y Unidas. “We’re here because all our justice is all wrapped up together. If you’re talking about women’s rights, it’s connected to immigrant rights, disability rights, and so on.”
Mujeres Activas y Unidas plans to bring domestic employers and workers together to educate them on maintaining a just and healthy relationship, while raising morale through expert hearings and media events.
The first hearing for the legislation will be held in Sacramento on April 13.
“So many of us want to be good employers but we don’t know how,” said Jessica Lehman, leadership organizer for Hand in Hand” ·········· Nope; I’m not accepting that as an excuse/explanation. If you don’t come from a background in managing household workers, using common sense, for starters, and dialogue, will help set the tone for what is expected from both sides.
In our house, duties and rules, salaries, needs and contingencies weren’t left to chance. If language is the barrier, seek help – there are plenty of competent people who can interpret.
Above all, show respect. Often some of the ladies are old enough to be your mother; she shouldn’t be addressed like “one of the girls” Except for the very youngest, all the ladies in our home were addressed as doña; a clear sign of respect and good way of avoiding over-familiarization.
Don’t assume that they automatically know how you want things handled; teach them – every home has idiosyncrasies.
Don’t be stingy with praise and acknowledgment either.