California vetoes Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

During an eleventh hour vote, California governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation which would have protected approximately 200,000 domestic workers in California by providing for overtime, the right to breaks for adequate sleep, greater access to worker’s compensation, the right to prepare one’s own meals by having access to an employer’s kitchen, the right to obtain regular statements of work hours and wages, and most importantly, a private right of action against noncompliant employers. The bill, A.B. 889, would have exempted casual employees such as babysitters and caretakers of the developmentally disabled.

Domestic workers, the great majority of whom are female, work long hours and are excluded from federal overtime requirements under the FLSA. They are already entitled to rest breaks spanning a few minutes for every four hours worked.  Obtaining a judgment enforcing those breaks has become more difficult, since the California Supreme Court has ruled that employers are not responsible for enforcing breaks.

In 2010, New York became the first state to enact a statute ensuring that domestic workers receive overtime. The New York law is more comprehensive than A.B. 889 by including other rights, such as paid leave.

The greatest obstacle to the A.B. 889’s passage appears to have been the perceived cost of enforcing worker’s rights. Yet merely creating a private right of action, without measures to expand domestic worker access to legal counsel, is only a preliminary step. The Department of Labor’s experience with enforcing the FLSA demonstrates that a private right of action, without access to counsel, only creates a right on paper and not in practice.