January 20, 2019

Labor Rights for Domestic Workers: Is This Even a Question? Guest Post by Jillian Ezra

As a child, my sister and I had somewhat of a different educational experience than most kids. We attended what is now called UCLA Lab School, which is UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies' laboratory for research and innovation in education. One of the school's distinguishing factors is its unwavering commitment to diversity, which we experienced by going to school with a wide range of kids from different ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic classes. Our schoolmates included the children of people like Sally Field, Steven Spielberg, and our housekeeper. When my parents took me to a friend's house on a play date, I never knew whether we would be going to a huge mansion in Beverly Hills or a small apartment in south Culver City. And it didn't matter. We were all kids playing the same games at recess. Diversity enriched our learning environment, and strengthened our community.

My mom taught us to give the clothes we outgrew to our housekeeper, Dora, so her kids could wear them. They were a bit younger than we were, but we would see them wear our clothes to school for years. Seeing them in my clothes around the age of six solidified what I had started to pick up–they were less fortunate than we were. I asked my mom why they didn't have their own clothes, and my mom explained that it was because they didn't have as much money as we did. There are lots of things that we got that they didn't get. Why? Because they came here from Guatemala with nothing. My heart sank for them. I realized how unfair that was. As far as my childhood self was concerned, Dora and her daughters were real people who had real lives and shared parts of them with my family.

Just last year I was going through a tough time. One day I was at my mom's house and broke down crying in front of my computer. Dora happened to be there and she rushed in. “What's wrong?” she asked in her thick accent. “Oh nothing, I'm fine,” I said. I wasn't fine though and Dora knew this. She grabbed me and held me while I sobbed and told me everything was going to be okay, and she didn't let go. Dora is a part of our family. She cooks us tamales at Christmas and brings us small presents every year. We give her and her children Christmas gifts too and dozens of pieces of clothing throughout the year. But Dora is also our employee. We give her an end-of-year bonus, we pay her salary, and we make sure she has time for lunch and breaks while she’s out our home.

I recently learned during my social justice fellowship at Bend the Arc that due to a loophole in labor laws, Dora and other domestic workers aren't entitled to the same basic labor protections such as meal and rest breaks, overtime pay, and paid days of rest that every other worker is entitled to. When I learned that there were live-in housekeepers, nannies and caregivers who were working 24 hours straight without breaks, sleeping in dismal conditions and for just a few hours at a time, and were unable to even take breaks, and that this was all legal, I was dumbfounded and deeply saddened.

Live-in housekeepers and nannies are mostly immigrant women, and they do not have the bargaining power to arrange their living conditions with their employers before starting work. Even if a housekeeper, caregiver or nanny is promised decent working and living conditions, the current labor laws do not apply to them. Therefore, the employer does not legally have to come through on those promises.

What saddened me most was that this loophole that keeps Dora and other domestic workers from having basic labor protections was not accidental. It is steeped in racism and gluttony. Under the 1935 National Labor Relations act, private sector workers gained the ability to create unions and the right to collectively bargain. Household workers and agricultural laborers, who were largely African-American since the end of the Civil War, were intentionally left out to satisfy Southern lawmakers who relied on their economic servitude. Sadly but unsurprisingly, the “>his veto message, Brown wrote that the bill “raises a number of unanswered questions,” such as the economic effect it could have on disabled and elderly people who rely on their cheap and constant in-home services, or those domestic workers who would lose their jobs because their employers could no longer afford to pay them. How would the State even enforce labor laws in private homes? Additionally, a drafting error would have cost the state more than $200 million per year because the bill included In Home Supportive Services workers. Brown wrote, “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.”

His comments seem reasonable to me, although many argue that he was being his unpredictable self, or just stalling the issue. Since then, the California Domestic Workers Coalition has worked to address Governor Brown's concerns by conducting a “>http://bendthearc.us/sites/default/files/docs/resources/care-magnet-2012.pdf

  • For more detailed instructions, check out this informative poster that New Yorkers have used since their Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed: “>http://www.change.org/petitions/bethehelp-support-domestic-workers
  • Take the pledge to support domestic workers: “> http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov) and express your support for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
  • “Like” the CA Domestic Workers Coalition on Facebook: