After years of mobilization by domestic workers and their allies, the California State Senate approved the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights on September 11, 2013. It is a major milestone for the national and local organizers that have fought for the regulation of domestic work.
The AB241 bill is now in the hands of the assembly for another vote. California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2012.
If the bill were signed into law, it would provide domestic workers with overtime pay when they work over 45 hours in a week. Proponents of the bill argue that domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse and underpay. This is attributed to the fact that domestic workers are mostly women and oftentimes recent immigrants. Because the work takes place behind closed doors, enforcement is a challenge. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, opponents of the bill maintain that it would burden families with increased costs for domestic works, and potentially harm the children and elderly who rely on workers’ long hours.
If the bill were to be implemented, California would join Hawaii and New York, which already have similar laws protecting domestic workers.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance and the California Domestic Workers Coalition have employed a number of tactics to garner support and encourage California residents to contact their elected officials. They circulated an electronic “Pledge of Support,” in which users commit to calling a local legislator, posting social media support of the campaign, or receiving a weekly email advertising that week’s action. The coalition also organized letter writing parties and a tour of California to mobilize supporters.
Sociologist Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo has found that domestic workers are “invisible” in the sense that they work behind closed doors and that their work is not often seen as work. Moreover, they have little power as workers in an unregulated industry. At first glance, these hurdles may seem to make social movement mobilization impossible. This success, even though incremental, tells us otherwise. Stay tuned.