California domestic workers may finally get OSHA protections

Big changes may be coming for California’s housekeepers, nannies, and home caregivers – and the people who hire them.

The California legislature passed a first-in-the-nation bill Thursday that would give domestic workers the same workplace protections as most other industries.

Domestic workers have been intentionally left out of many U.S. labor laws since the 1930s, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. SB 686 would change that, requiring private homes that hire household staff to follow the same OSHA guidelines as any other employer.

“For too long, the workers – the women – that we entrust to care for our loved ones and our homes have been marginalized and dehumanized by an intentional exclusion from our workplace health and safety laws,” said state Sen. María Elena Durazo, who authored the bill.

According to the UCLA Labor Center, 85% of all domestic workers are women, and more than half are foreign-born. Since many domestic workers are classified as independent contractors, the median hourly wage is only $10.79 – far less than the state’s $15.50 minimum wage for regular employees.

During a debate on the bill, Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove said that treating private homes like commercial worksites could lead to invasions of privacy.

“CAL-OSHA can enter into any worksite at any time without notice, and making your homes a worksite under this piece of legislation, I think, will allow CAL-OSHA and the department of industrial relations to walk into your private home to address the health and safety concerns that the state might have,” she said.

The bill still needs approval from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who vetoed similar legislation in 2020. Newsom, who paid $288,000 in wages to his own household staff in 2019, said then that “the places where people live cannot be treated in the exact same manner as a traditional workplace.”

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