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Filipino domestic workers push for basic rights


08:09 AM April 27th, 2013

By: Nimfa U. Rueda, April 27th, 2013 08:09 AM

LOS ANGELES—More than 100 Filipino domestic workers and their supporters yesterday (Friday in Manila) held a “cupcake party”  in front of the state building here to show their support for a bill that will grant domestic workers in California basic labor rights, such as overtime pay and breaks.

The California Assembly bill, AB 241, passed in the labor and employment committee in Sacramento on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).

“We’re celebrating this first victorious step, the first legislative action on the bill” said Lolita Andrada Lledo, senior community organizer of the LA-based Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), who were among the rally participants who held trays of cupcakes and carried balloons on a sidewalk in front of the state building.

The PWC has been lobbying for the passage of AB 241—also known as the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights— which will extend basic rights to domestic workers and help protect them from abuse, Lledo said.

Mostly caregivers

There are more than 200,000 domestic workers in California and of these, about 50,000—mostly caregivers—are Filipino, Lledo estimated. One of these Filipinos workers is Amelia Bernachea, a live-in caregiver.

Shortly before the bill was approved, Bernachea testified before the committee that she earned $70 (about P2,870) for a 24-hour job caring for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s, with no breaks and overtime pay.

“Domestic work requires a lot of responsibilities, patience, kindness and understanding,” she said. “Most of the time I can hardly sleep a straight eight hours because I want to make sure that my employer is taken care of throughout the night.

“I endure the work because it’s important, and because I financially support my children (so they can) go to college,” Bernachea added.  She said AB 241 would recognize her work as “real work” and give domestic workers equal rights under state labor law.

A similar bill, AB 889, was introduced last year but was vetoed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who cited concerns that the proposed law could unreasonably burden disabled, low-income or elderly individuals who may need around-the-clock care.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who reintroduced the bill, said he will make sure “that doesn’t happen again.”

Overtime protection

“If we can’t pass this bill this year and get it signed, we will owe an explanation to the workers. They are people, mostly women, who keep some households running smoothly and enable people with disabilities to live at home, instead of in institutions,” Ammiano said. “Why shouldn’t they have overtime protections like the average barista or gas station attendant?”

The National Domestic

Workers Alliance said the mostly female and immigrant domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse because of the “isolated nature of the industry, where women labor behind closed doors and out of the public eye.”

These workers are also excluded from most employment laws and are not able to collectively bargain, “which means they are unprotected when asking for respect of their basic rights,” according to the alliance.

In a study, the group found that more than 85 percent of the workers surveyed encountered problems with their working conditions in the previous year but did not complain because they were afraid to lose their job or that their immigration status would be used against them. Among live-in workers, two in three were paid below the minimum wage, according to the survey.

Lledo said she and other PWC members support the bill because it would provide domestic workers “overtime protections, meals, rest breaks and worker’s compensation” among other basic labor rights.

Threat to economy?

The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, saying it would harm the state’s economy.

Having passed the Labor and Employment Committee, the bill will now go to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for approval. If approved, it will move through the Full Assembly, the Senate Labor Committee, the Senate Assembly and then the full Senate.

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