Advocates for US domestic workers bill stay stubborn and strong for equal rights

San Francisco Women's Building (Lapidge Street view)
The mural painted on San Francisco's Women's Building (Lapidge Street view) was created as a tribute to indigenous minority immigrant women in the State. Image: Gary Steven Flickr

“I worked in a facility where they housed pilots and worked long days – often up to 16 hours at a time. They only paid me $1.00 per day and sometimes less than that,” said Reina, a domestic worker.

“The connection between a domestic workers’ immigration status and her employment is exploited by employers to discourage the reporting of violations,” cautions the UN Commission.

“Our society does not really value this kind of work like it should,” stressed Andrea Mercado, Organizing Director for Mujeres Unidas y Activas and The California Coalition of Domestic Workers.

“I think the fact that most of them are immigrants and the fact that they don’t understand fair labor standards contribute to the workplace abuse,” Mercado continued. “…that also speaks to the fact that this work has never been valued or respected. It’s work that’s happening behind closed doors in private homes with no legal protections. Many people compare it to the wild west where you are really at the mercy of your employer.”

The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights – AB899

Human rights advocates in California are now seeking fair treatment for immigrant domestics under the AB889 bill, but the legal guidelines for the Bill have been falling hard with acceptance in some circles.

“My mother was a domestic worker that worked for a family. She started taking care of one person and at the end she was taking care of 3 people for a wage of $1,000 dollars a month 24/7,” outlined Claudia Reyes from Mujeres Unidas y Activas, which is one of many organizations that are part of The California Household Workers Rights Coalition. “Even though my mother worked next door to our house, she didn’t have the choice to come home and spend 10 minutes with us or even to take meals with us,” added Reyes.

Nicknamed ‘The Babysitter Bill,’ AB889, which is officially called the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, was created to provide a protective law for immigrant women hired to work ‘under the surface’ in California.

“This legislation helps us to bring a critical workforce out of the shadows and into the light of day. Domestic workers must be assured the rights and protections that all California workers deserve,” said V. Manuel Pérez, co-author and chair of the California State Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy.

But not everyone agrees the Bill is good for California or the U.S.

“This is the type of legislation that drives everyday Californians crazy,” said Republican and California Senator Doug La Malfa in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“Now parents have to worry about getting sued for not having a detailed wage statement, workers’ comp and having meal and rest breaks for your baby-sitter? The cost of date night just went way up,” he continued. La Malfa is a self-described fourth generation rice farmer and business owner who has lived in Northern California all his life. He is also currently running for U.S. Congress.

Passing forward through legislative levels in California’s Assembly in June 2, 2011 and on through the Senate Labor Committee on July 6, 2011, the Bill stalled five weeks later as it was close to making law on August 15. It was shelved by a unanimous ballot by the California Senate Appropriations Committee placing it in the Appropriations Suspense file. This means that the legal motion is currently considered by a majority of California legislators to be too expensive for the State of California to manage.

But why did this happen after the bill has traveled so far? Some say it may have come from a rising tide of tensions against race in California, especially against those newly entering the State from Mexico. But the ‘official’ reason states it is based on analysis that AB889 has the potential to cost the State of California too much outgoing expense with an estimated $385,000 monthly to process any possible complaints made by domestic workers against their employers once the law was in effect.

But even with this discouraging outcome advocates and immigrant domestic workers are not giving up on this bill.

“We passed through the [California] assembly in June and then went to the senate labor committee,” said Andrea Mercado of the California Domestic Worker Coalition. “Then we got stuck in senate appropriations in August. I think it will be a huge victory for domestic workers. This bill would be like our Oscar,” Mercado added.

“We’re not asking for extra rights, we’re just asking for equal rights and basic human rights that other workers have,” explained Claudia Reyes.

“Millions of domestic workers around the world are vulnerable to serious violations of their human rights,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navi Pillay to the Employers Group at the 100th session of the International Labour Conference sponsored by the ILO – International Labour Organization held in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2011.  “This vulnerability is compounded by the fact that most of them are women, many are migrants, and, of these, a significant number are in an irregular situation in their country of employment,” outlined Pillay.

Taking care of our homes, children, elders, and growing our food, is some of the most essential human work, but it is not valued by our society. It is work done by people of color, immigrants, women. And this devaluation is institutionalized. Domestic workers and farmworkers were left out of the National Labor Relations Act in the 1930’s to appease Southern segregationists, who were afraid of African-American organizing. But today, once again, domestic workers are organizing. There are over 30 grassroots domestic worker organizations across the country, grappling with how to win respect and dignity for these workers. Together they have formed the National Domestic Worker Alliance. This 7:18 min October 2011 video is part of a series for TEDxFruitVale productions.

For more information on this topic:

Why a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights?” UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Lauren D. Applebaum, Ph.D., December 2010;

Domestic Workers Rights in the United States,” University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Clinic for the United Nations Human Rights Committee, July 2006;

Left Out – Assessing the Rights of Migrant Domestic Workers in the United States – Seeking Alternatives,” Human Rights Center UC Berkeley with International Human Rights Clinic Boalt Hall School of Law, November 2003.


Additional sources for this WNN story include the Los Angeles Times, The National Domestic Workers Alliance, United Nations Human Rights Committee, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, International Human Rights Clinic Boalt Hall School of Law, Human Rights Center UC Berkeley, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Clinic, TEDx and the California Domestic Workers Coalition.

An avid community organizer and author, WNN human rights journalist Jessica Buchleitner possess a strong desire to change the world starting at the community level. Advocating for global women’s rights in 2009, Buchleitner compiled her upcoming book, “50 Women” for The 50 Women Project, which includes interviews with fifty women from thirty different countries. “The book covers stories of women’s strength and perseverance,” says Jessica. In addition to publishing on WNN, Buchleitner has contributed to The Western Edition San Francisco and The San Francisco Chronicle. “I have always believed the heart of all global communities lie with women,” says Buchleitner.


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