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In recent weeks, the California legislature passed some bills that would have offered expanded rights and protections for some of California's most vulnerable workers. Sunday night, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed several of them.
One of the bills that didn't pass muster with Brown was a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, similar to one passed in New York in 2010, that would have given home care workers, nannies, and cleaners overtime pay, meal breaks, and, for live-in workers, the right to either eight hours of uninterrupted rest or compensation for interruption. Domestic workers are, of course, overwhelmingly women and immigrants, and apparently to Brown, their employers' interest in not paying overtime or in waking them up in the middle of the night without added pay trumps the most basic workplace rights.
These bills would have doubtless been very inconvenient for industries built not just on low-wage work but on abuse of workers. And of course many employers of domestic workers don't think of themselves as being part of an industry. They're just people who need a nanny, a cleaner, a care worker. I've little sympathy for people who just want to underpay the nanny, but for disabled people who rely on care workers, the prospect of having to pay more for things like overtime can be terrifying. But the fact that our health care system is broken, causing people with disabilities to rely on caregivers who lack basic workplace protections, should not become a justification for continuing to deny hundreds of thousands of people basic workplace protections. Similarly, the agriculture industry argues that food prices might go up if farm owners who put workers at risk of heat death faced strong penalties. And that may be true. But is cheaper food really an adequate justification for denying human beings the protections animals get?
In vetoing the heat protection bill, Brown wrote that "While I believe enforcement of our heat standards can be improved, I am not convinced that creating a new crime ... is the answer," arguing instead that "we should continue to enforce our stringent standards for the benefit of all workers in all industries." If the existing standards were stringent enough and were being enforced, the vetoes might make sense. But that's not the case, and California workers will continue to suffer as a result.