More than a dozen women with strollers, many of them nannies, line up outside the Mission Branch library on a Tuesday morning. Photo by Joe Eskenazi Más de una docena de mujeres con cochecitos, muchas de ellas niñeras, hacen fila frente a la biblioteca de Mission Branch un martes por la mañana. Foto de Joe Eskenazi

After 13 years working for a housekeeping agency, Edina Ajin Perez decided, in 2017, to go solo. She cleans two or three houses a day, working for a total of 15 clients, and generally, business is good.

A few weeks ago, though, one of Perez’s newest clients surprised her. If Perez, 39, was ever sick or needed a vacation, the client said, she could still expect to be paid. 

“I was so happy,” Perez said in Spanish. In four years of cleaning houses independently, this was the first client to offer Perez sick pay. Typically, she said, “If I don’t work, then I don’t earn.”

That includes the three weeks in 2019 that she took off for a gallbladder operation. The only exception was at the start of the pandemic, when “gracias a Dios,” she says, several of her clients sent her payments even though she wasn’t cleaning their houses.

Domestic workers like Perez are technically eligible to receive pay when they’re sick, but many are unaware they are legally entitled to receive paid sick leave; they simply go without the income. And while a conscientious or understanding employer may send a check when a worker is ill, not everyone does. 

A new ordinance proposed last week by District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen seeks to shift the onus to offer or request sick pay away from the workers and clients and into an automated system that will aggregate paid time off across multiple employers. 

Ronen aide Santiago Lerma said the Domestic Workers Equal Access to Paid Sick Leave legislation is exciting “because it actually allows somebody to have the benefit of a right that they did [have], but couldn’t realize.” 

Under current San Francisco law, all employees are eligible to an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. While domestic workers like nannies or caretakers often only have one or two employers, people like Perez, who have over a dozen employers to keep track of, have struggled to accumulate these hours with any one employer. 

Grace Gordon, 50, who, in addition to her job as a home care aide, has been cleaning houses for about 30 years called the legislation a “win.” 

“I definitely think people should get sick leave,” said Gordon, who at her peak was cleaning two houses a day before the pandemic. “I think that people deserve it.” 

She added that she sometimes has difficulty getting clients to pay her standard wages without reminding them, let alone paid sick time. Instead, she’s always depended on her “regular” hospital jobs for benefits like paid leave. 

During her decades cleaning houses, Gordon said she’s never been paid when sick or on vacation, but speculated that had she asked, some of her clients might have been on board. 

Fatima Arce, a young nanny who started caring for two children full-time about a year ago, welcomed the news of the new proposal, saying in Spanish that, so far, she’s never been sick or asked for time off. 

While several of Arce’s fellow childcare workers at Parque Niños Unidos on Wednesday morning said they had contracts with their employers stipulating a certain number of sick and vacation days each year, Arce doesn’t have a contract with the two families she works for. If she gets sick, she said, she’s unsure what would happen. 

Under the new system, this uncertainty will be eliminated: Workers will present a letter from the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement to each of their employers “explaining to the employer their obligations under current law,” according to Lerma.  

Domestic workers will then track the hours they work in an online account, and employers will make regular contributions to this account. When the worker needs to use their sick time off, they can simply access their pay through this account. 

Lerma said the new system, which has yet to be built out, will not track workers’ income or pay rates, and will not require a background check or a social security number — its primary function will be to allow employees to accumulate the standard amount of sick pay as they work. 

“Domestic workers are the backbone of our economy, and they make our city run,” said Ronen in the press release for the proposed ordinance, which she called the “first of its kind in the nation.” 

Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who cosponsored the ordinance, added that the legislation is a way of “doing right by this population, who are mostly women of color…” 

Lerma said that the legislation will likely be heard by the Budget Committee in the next few weeks after a 30-day wait period required by the Board of Supervisors. If the ordinance passes a vote by the Board and is signed into law, Lerma said workers could start issuing letters to their employers within a year. 

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Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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1 Comment

  1. Domestic workers come in all forms & shapes. Some classify themselves & self-employed & pay their taxes accordingly with that classification.

    I worked as a nanny & as an hourly babysitter for over 10 years, while putting myself through College. With the exception of my 3 first jobs, I was always my own boss & paid my own taxes.

    How does this ordinance differentiate among the Domestic workers that are self-employed vs. someone’s employee?

    What are the nuances of this Ordinance? Will people lose their jobs because the people using their services will be classified as “employers” & may not want or are able to afford to pay into the City’s fund?

    Also, could the “employer” classification,
    lead to lawsuits in the future?

    Perhaps a better way to do this, is for the City to divert some of its tax money to a Domestic Worker’s public fund.

    Also, the City could provide workshops that would teach this class of workers about existing labor laws, labor pricing, & negotiation tactics.

    I was always shocked to find out how little some of the sitters at the park made compared to my frienda & I.

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