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First-in-Nation Law Will Make it Easier for Domestic Workers in San Francisco to Get Paid Sick Time

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A man wearing a hat, blue hoodie and white pants holds a hose and waters a bush.
A gardener water plants on April 1, 2015 in San Francisco.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Labor rights advocates in San Francisco are hailing a new groundbreaking measure that makes it easier for the city’s estimated 10,000 domestic workers – including nannies, house cleaners and gardeners — to take paid sick leave.

The new ordinance, which the city’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved last week, will establish a benefits system,  likely in the form of an app, that tracks workers’ hours across multiple employers, and allots one hour of sick time for every 30 hours of work. Currently, domestic workers’ hours are not tallied collectively, so most have to work 30 hours for an individual employer before earning sick time.

“Most workers have one or two employers that track and distribute paid sick time as needed,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who co-sponsored the measure with Supervisor Myrna Melgar. “Domestic workers, however, often work sporadic schedules for multiple, individual employers, which makes it almost impossible for them to accrue enough paid sick time from any one employer.”

Ronen said the Domestic Workers’ Equal Access to Paid Sick Leave Ordinance is the first of its kind in the nation, and requires all employers in San Francisco to offer paid sick leave.

To take effect, the measure needs a second vote by the supervisors, where it will then await Mayor London Breed’s signature. It would then take several months for the city to hire a private company to administer the benefits program.

Kimberly Alvarenga, the executive director of the California Domestic Workers Coalition, which helped develop the ordinance, said that even though domestic workers in the city have had the right to paid sick leave since 2007 — when voters passed Proposition F — they have always felt that the benefit was out of reach. She said the new law will affect workers who are often underpaid and who have few benefits.

“They are primarily women, they are primarily immigrant women,” Alvarenga said. “Many of them are undocumented women who don’t have the privilege of those systems.”

Alvarenga said many employers she has spoken to support the ordinance.

“We truly believe that San Franciscans really do respect the work of immigrant workers,” Alvarenga said. “Most of them don’t feel the burden of adding that one hour of pay for every 30 hours of work — they really support their workers.”

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The coronavirus pandemic, she added, highlighted the vulnerability of domestic workers because “if they didn’t go to work, they didn’t get paid.”

“If they became ill with the virus, if a family member became ill with the virus, they had no choice,” Alvarenga said. “This ordinance will provide some equity so when they become ill, they can take a day to take care of themselves, children or family members.”

Evelin Alfaro, who has been cleaning houses in San Francisco for 11 years, said even though she should have access to paid sick leave, she hasn’t been able to accrue enough hours because of the multiple employers she works for.

“It extends dignity to our work and also recognition to me as a human being,” Alfaro said. But, she added, the new measure is only as good as the number of people who know about it.

“We know that the changes we are creating in the law don’t matter unless we are able to reach people,” she said. “We’re making sure that the 10,000 domestic workers in San Francisco actually know that this exists and that they have the right to it.”

This post includes reporting from The Associated Press.


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