Don't tell Mom the babysitter's unionized

Don't tell Mom the babysitter's unionized

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If Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has his way, your babysitter soon could join a union and cost you a lot more.

The San Francisco Democrat has authored several domestic-worker unionization bills that have been vetoed by California governors. Now he's back with Assembly Bill 241, which just passed both houses of the Legislature and is awaiting a signature or veto from Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill would significantly impact home health care providers’ ability to provide affordable care to elderly clients or clients with disabilities.

Flexibility in schedules for such workers is imperative, based on the unique needs of the client. But the law would make it difficult to provide care to those needing around-the-clock assistance.

The other problem is the home-care industry will be forced to absorb the additional increased labor costs caused by this bill. The increased costs could make live-in care unaffordable for many families, landing more elderly Californians in state-run long-term medical care hospitals.

It always starts with a resolution

In 2010, the Legislature passed a Resolution for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which spawned a study by UCLA on the issue.

“This resolution highlights the work done by domestic workers in the state and the labor violations faced by these workers,” the UCLA study said. “The resolution calls for the fair treatment of these workers, noting that domestic workers have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.”

The California Domestic Worker Coalition was formed in 2009 to replicate New York’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.

The coalition included Mujeres Unidas Y Activas, POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), La Colectiva de Mujeres of La Raza Centro Legal, Filipino Advocates for Justice, Grayton Day Labor Program, the Pilipino Worker Center, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California.

In 2009, the coalition brought together 100 domestic workers to create a list of demands for workplace protections available to other workers, such as overtime pay, Cal/OSHA safety standards and workers’ compensation.

This isn’t just a grassroots effort to help domestic workers. It’s being pushed by big labor groups such as Urban Habitat, the International Labour Organization and the National Domestic Worker Alliance.

Bill amended in order to get it passed

Then, what was promised as just a resolution recognizing this group of the workforce morphed into this year's AB241.
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AB241 was amended so much, the bill’s language went from “would specially regulate the wages, hours, and working conditions of domestic work employees”; to “would regulate the hours of work of certain domestic work employees and provide an overtime compensation rate for those employees.”

And AB241 now includes a sunset date of January 1, 2017. But sunset dates are regularly re-legislated and extended.

What lawmakers do is take out offensive language in order to get the bill passed. Then once it is law, the state agency which oversees the law goes into action, adding certain aspects back into it through regulations, statutes and lawsuit outcomes.

“Domestic work” means services related to the care of persons in private households or the maintenance of private households or their premises. Domestic work occupations include childcare providers, caregivers of people with disabilities, sick, convalescing, or elderly persons, house cleaners, housekeepers, maids and other household occupations.

The bill now punishes an employer by forcing them to pay overtime. The bill reads:

“A domestic work employee who is a personal attendant shall not be employed more than nine hours in any workday or more than 45 hours in any workweek unless the employee receives one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over nine hours in any workday and for all hours worked more than 45 hours in the workweek.”

In other occupations, standard overtime is paid after eight hours in one work day, and after 40 in one week.

Setting up the latest bill

In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Ammiano's previous regulation of domestic workers, AB889, Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. The bill would have allowed a state agency to develop regulations on overtime and meal breaks for nannies, maids and other domestic workers.

In his veto message, Brown wrote:

“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?…. Will it increase costs to the point of forcing people out of their homes and into licensed institutions?”

That may be an indication that Brown also will veto the new bill, AB241. But so far he has not indicated what he will do.

One thing that remains clear is that AB241 is an entre to unionizing nannies, domestic caregivers and adult (not teenage) babysitters.

Opponents of the bill warned unionizing domestic workers would hurt workers while helping labor unions. Workers would forced to pay union dues out of their low wages, and no longer would have the ability to work flexible schedules and hours.

To avoid the bill, many employers — such as parents — might try to hire illegal aliens already working outside the law. This would mean that many American citizens, or legal resident immigrants, could lose their jobs.

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