Domestic worker pay and licensing bills advance in California

06/27/2013 12:00 AM

06/27/2013 2:02 PM

Democrats at the Capitol are pushing legislation they say will guarantee fair wages and safe working conditions for domestic workers, despite Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of similar measures last year.

Two bills that passed Senate committees this week aim to ensure that privately employed domestic workers are licensed, eligible for overtime pay, make at least minimum wage, get eight hours of sleep during 24-hour shifts and have access to a kitchen for meal breaks.

Supporters say domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, private in-home health care workers and personal assistants – should receive the same benefits and treatment any other employee would.

But home care agencies counter that the costs of implementing the bills could harm their businesses and increase the price of hiring domestic workers.

Faced with similar legislation a year ago, Brown issued a veto, saying there were too many unanswered questions, including whether it would "increase costs to the point of forcing people out of their homes and into licensed institutions."

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said "the door is not closed" on his Assembly Bill 241 this year. He said he's scheduled a meeting with Brown to discuss the bill and hoped to negotiate a solution that would satisfy opponents.

"If there are negotiations that need to happen, not only for a signature but also for a peaceful coexistence, my office is more than ready to do that," Ammiano said.

Busloads of domestic workers and advocates traveled Wednesday to the Capitol to speak in favor of Ammiano's bill – which would allow employees to earn overtime, guarantee they are paid at least minimum wage and create mandatory meal and rest breaks – at a committee hearing.

One of those advocates, Ramiro Montoya, said he believes domestic workers should receive the same benefits as any other employee.

"I grew up in a family where everyone worked, but I was a kid and I had a nanny (who) worked there until she got older. She never got any retirement or vacation. In her name, I am doing this," Montoya said. "I think it is time to treat them with dignity and respect."

Opponents, however, say the underlying issues in the home health care debate are more complex.

Trevor O'Neil, president of Colonial Home Care Services Inc., said that although he believes domestic workers deserve the same rights as any other employee, the extra costs Ammiano's bill would impose on private home care agencies would outweigh any benefits.

"The problem is not that these basic protections don't exist," O'Neil said. "It's that employers of these domestic workers, the vast majority of whom are private individuals, simply do not follow the law."

AB 241 passed the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on a 3-1 vote Wednesday.

Another bill, Assembly Bill 1217 by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, cleared the Senate Human Services Committee on a 4-2 vote Tuesday. It would require domestic workers to go through background checks, training, licensing and regulation similar to the process In-Home Supportive Services uses for its employees.

The Department of Social Services would oversee the process and would compile an online database of certified domestic workers.

Jennifer Gabales, policy director at the California Association of Health Services, said AB 1217 would jeopardize the quality of care many clients receive.

Gabales and other opponents of the bills said the elderly and disabled who employ caregivers will be the most adversely affected. Under the proposed regulations, the price of employing domestic workers would likely rise, leaving many families unable to afford the same amount of care, they say.

"They are going to have to reduce the hours they can afford a caregiver and lose the continuity of care, or they are going to be forced to go underground to hire a caregiver, and lose the assurance of high quality care they get from an agency," Gabales said.

This can be especially challenging for clients with mental health illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease who typically respond better to familiar faces, Gabales said.

Opponents also take issue with the online registry. Having to report employees' workplace and personal information on a public website creates privacy concerns, according to home care agencies.

Third-party home care agencies that work as middlemen between clients and domestic workers are among the most vocal opponents. They say the costs of additional licensing fees, maintaining the online registry and increased administrative tasks would be both financially devastating and unnecessary.

Both bills now move to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Call Annalise Mantz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5545.

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