Monday, March 8, 2021

Envisioning a Secure and Just Future in the Household Workplace

Guest blogger: Nicole LaPorte, Graduate Student in Migration Studies, University of San Francisco

Envisioning a Secure and Just Future in the Household Workplace: Immigrant Domestic Workers Advocating for Reform

In San Francisco, California, immigrant domestic workers who cook, clean and take care of children and seniors in private households have endured the largest number of wage and workplace violations over the most recent 13-year period, according to the findings of a Rutgers’s study published in September 2020.[1] During this same time span, there have been only four formal complaints filed for every 5,000 estimated minimum wage violations.[2]. This exploitation with impunity reflects the historic devaluation of domestic work. The sector, initially primarily composed of Black women and later immigrant women of color, has throughout history been repeatedly and deliberately excluded from this country’s labor law protections. Domestic workers take care of what is most important to us, yet they are often the least valued and the most vulnerable to unjust workplace conditions. Nevertheless, the immigrant domestic workers of today continue to fight tirelessly for access to basic workplace protections and rights.

Domestic workers are skilled professionals who engage in a variety of activities ranging from housecleaning, homecare, and childcare support. As the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) proudly promotes; “domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible”.[3] This sentiment is particularly poignant in the COVID-19 era that we are currently witnessing; in which working parents, those responsible for the care of their elderly family members, and people accustomed to arriving home to a professionally-cleaned space are now reckoning with how to balance the abrupt merging of their personal and professional words. Homecare work and its essential value is suddenly at the forefront of the public’s attention, and the industry’s archaic practices continue to be challenged by coalitions of domestic workers advocating for reform.

In California, the group behind many of the legislative wins in the sector is the California Domestic Workers Coalition (CDWC), the state’s widest-reaching network of over 300,000 domestic worker organizers.[4] Founded in the early 2000s, the domestic worker-led organization has become an alliance comprised of worker centers, labor unions, students, faith groups, and policy advocates. Its mission is to advance a “movement for the rights and dignity of immigrant women workers by building power through legislative advocacy, grassroots organizing, and leadership development”.[5]

This year, the CDWC launched two legislative campaigns at the regional and state level. In response to months of organizing led by CDWC’s immigrant domestic workers, democratic Los Angeles senator Maria Elena Durazo introduced SB1257: Health and Safety for All Workers Act this past February. If it had passed, the bill would have eliminated the exclusion of “household domestic service” from protections offered by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA). Domestic workers thus would have been afforded the same rights as other workers to protective training and equipment, critical in an era of wildfire-induced hazardous air quality as well as the rise of COVID-19.

In a crushing setback to the CDWC’s efforts and all domestic workers across California, on October 1st 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed SB1257, on grounds that “many individuals to whom this law would apply lack the expertise to comply with these regulations.”[6] When the news of Newsom’s veto broke, hundreds of domestic worker organizers and allies gathered to protest across the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Groups staged a “die-in” on the steps of government buildings to embody the signs held with the slogan; Governor Newsom, Your Veto is Killing Us. CDWC director Kimberly Alvarenga stated that Governor Newsom signaled a clear message by vetoing SB1257; “His message to us is that low-wage immigrant women workers in the State of California are second-class workers. He has made it very clear that they’re good enough and essential enough to clean up toxic ash after wildfires inside people’s homes. [But] they’re not good enough to get the same health and safety protections that other people enjoy.”[7]

While the veto was devastating to the immigrant domestic workers across the state who had spent countless hours planning, sharing petitions, making phone calls, and presenting their personal testimony in lobbying meetings, they nevertheless have begun organizing their next campaign. This CDWC-led Equal Access to Paid Time Off campaign is focused at a regional level in the city of San Francisco. If passed, the city-wide ordinance will grant domestic workers the right to accrue paid time off consistent with what other sectors are guaranteed under the law by way of an innovative portable benefits system. When the bill is presented in January 2021 by Supervisor Hillary Ronen, San Francisco and its board of supervisors will have the opportunity to right the historic inequities that immigrant domestic workers face in the city.

It is profoundly powerful to witness immigrant domestic workers organize for better work place conditions amidst historic wildfires sweeping across the state, the ongoing national movement for social and racial equity, and a global pandemic. In particular it is remarkable to see how organizing and advocacy efforts - and the spirit of maintaining human connectedness and unified resilience - can persist in the midst of mandated physical distancing and this year’s fraught political and economic climate. Despite the continued challenges faced and the legislative losses experienced along the way, the movement continues on toward achieving a safe, equitable and just household workplace for all.

San Francisco domestic workers deserve paid time off and sick leave just like all other workers. If you believe this too, please join me in signing and sharing the petition to ask San Francisco leaders to create a paid time off program for this essential workforce- Petition: Domestic Workers Deserve Paid Sick Leave!

 

[1] School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University “A Roadmap A Roadmap for Strategic Enforcement: Complaints and Compliance with San Francisco’s Minimum Wage” Center for Innovation in Worker Organization DATA BRIEF, September 2020

[2] School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University “A Roadmap A Roadmap for Strategic Enforcement: Complaints and Compliance with San Francisco’s Minimum Wage”, 1

[3] Harris, Kamla and Jayapal, Pramila “One Pager: Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” Harris.Senate.Gov. https://www.harris.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/ONE%20PAGER%20National%20Domestic%20Workers%20Bill%20of%20Rights.pdf Accessed 22 July 2020

[4] “California Domestic Workers Coalition: About” California Domestic Workers Coalition, https://www.cadomesticworkers.org/about/.  Accessed 18 July 2020

[5] “California Domestic Workers Coalition: About” California Domestic Workers Coalition, https://www.cadomesticworkers.org/about/.  Accessed 18 July 2020

[6] Bernstein, Dennis “Gavin Newsom Just Vetoed a Bill That Would Protect Domestic Workers”, The Progressive https://progressive.org/dispatches/newsom-vetoed-bill-protect-workers-bernstein-201009/?fbclid=IwAR3cGa2tsLnN38bw7g55CYqzQp8sWJjrJgY1QjNwma1ZoUn2HkdEqcmqZF0

 October 9th 2020

[7]  Bernstein, Dennis “Gavin Newsom Just Vetoed a Bill That Would Protect Domestic Workers”, 1

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