In California, a recent Senate Bill 1257, The Health and Safety for All Workers Act, seeks to provide housekeeping and domestic workers with the same protections as most other workers under Cal/OSHA labor law (California’s Occupational Safety Administration Regulations). And it could compel more states, and even the federal government, to do the same.
Coronavirus has exposed the fact that domestic workers across the world—most of whom are women and low-income—generally lack any legal or economic protections to help them through these trying times.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in the U.S., there’s no better time to pass such a bill—not only to protect California’s domestic workers, but also to set an example for other states.
What’s It Like to Be a Domestic Worker During a Pandemic?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic workers were particularly vulnerable and at risk—a workforce consisting largely of women and minority workers. Yet, like most essential professions during this time, the risks have greatly increased.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate nearly three-quarters of domestic workers around the world are at risk of both job and income loss, with little to no social security to protect them.
And domestic workers employed on an informal basis are especially at risk; some even lack the ability to access social security as a whole.
U.S. research has yielded similar results: A June survey conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) found U.S. domestic workers—specifically Black and immigrant workers—have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
The results found a majority of workers (59-93 percent across the three separate surveys comprising NDWA’s study) had been terminated or had their hours significantly reduced, were at risk of being evicted or having utilities cut and felt apprehensive about seeking any form of social security available to them—largely due to their immigration status and fear of reprisal.
Ultimately, these two studies expose an ugly truth: that iniquitous governments—our own included—are failing to do even the bare minimum for their nation’s domestic workers.
What Does California’s Health and Safety for All Workers Act Include?
The bill in the California State Assembly would expand protections for domestic workers, creating a precedent to orient the U.S. in the correct direction.
The Health and Safety for All Workers Act will amend domestic workers’ current exclusion from Cal/OSHA Labor Law. It will additionally create an advisory committee to develop industry-specific regulations to govern household domestic services.
Finally, it will establish guidelines to govern the process of inspecting and investigating alleged health and safety violations, including within the private homes domestic workers are employed at.
In summary, it’s a simple bill that will put into practice the ethical decision to provide domestic workers with labor protections by including them within California’s current labor laws.
COVID-19 has made entirely apparent the abysmal state of American labor policies. As millions of workers are left unemployed and without adequate income to support themselves, the failures of both state and federal governments are on full display. Swift action is needed to protect all workers.
The truth is there is no cure-all legislation that will make things better for all workers immediately. Legislators and their electorates must fix these issues in small, but powerful steps.
With the commitment of the largest state in the U.S. to protect domestic workers, it will set the precedent for other states to do the same and, in time, allow for federal legislation to protect all workers.
California residents can tell their state representative to vote yes on SB 1257 by emailing them at [Assembly Member’s Last Name]@assembly.ca.gov or contacting them through their website. (Find your legislator here.)