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Rights for Domestic Workers

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A new law provides California's domestic workers with overtime protections. While other workers have long enjoyed these benefits, domestic workers have not. During the 1930s and 40s, when Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act and other worker protection laws, Southern lawmakers deliberately excluded domestic workers. They could not fathom granting worker protections to nannies, the majority of whom were African-American women. Sadly, this exclusion has not been corrected until now.

In the 1940s my grandmother worked for so-called friends who never paid her except to provide her room and board. She was a single mother who had no other alternative but to accept those terms. That this happened to her back then infuriates me, but that these practices continue today appalls me.

I serve on the board of an immigrant women's organization and have heard horror stories of women who have cared for infants and the elderly and worked round the clock with few or no breaks and little pay to show for it. These women are stuck in those jobs because they've had no other recourse -- the majority of them are immigrants who are heads of their own households.

Domestic workers perform an invaluable service. They keep our economy vital and strong by allowing many of us to work outside our homes. Many rely on domestic workers to care for young children or aging parents, to keep homes tidy and gardens tended. Yet, because the work performed takes place in the home it is largely invisible and easily exploited.

I applaud Assemblyman Tom Ammiano for introducing the bill and Governor Brown for signing it, but more needs to be done. The original bill required rest and lunch breaks as well as periods of uninterrupted sleep. These provisions should be restored to bring equity and dignity to a sector of our society that performs essential work and has been ignored for far too long. Human decency requires it.


With a Perspective, this is Sara Campos.

Sara Campos serves on the Board of Mujeres Unidas & Activas and works  a writer, lawyer and consultant in Berkeley.

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