Earlier this week, California’s Senate passed SB 321, the Health And Safety for All Workers Act. Introduced by progressive Senator Maria Elena Durazo, the bill, which has now been taken up by the Assembly, would plug a shameful gap in the state’s OSHA coverage: the nearly five-decades-long exclusion of domestic workers, the majority of whom are women of color, since the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1973. “We want safety and security for all workers, including those who work as nannies, home care workers, and housekeepers,” says Norma Miranda, a Los Angeles–based domestic worker who is part of the California Domestic Workers’ Coalition (CDWC) and an activist with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA).
Miranda notes that in the existing unregulated labor market of domestic work, workers have no way of distinguishing the good employers from the bad, those who will help pay for health care coverage and accident insurance and safe working environments versus those who make no effort to maintain safe conditions inside their homes. She talks of the high rate of respiratory illnesses and skin ailments faced by workers exposed on a daily basis to toxic cleaning chemicals, as well as the potential for accidents when workers have to move heavy pieces of furniture.
If it becomes law, SB 321 will mandate Cal-OSHA to set up a committee that will report back within six months on how to extend workplace protections to cover domestic workers. Among other things, the law will require employers to post warnings in areas of their homes that have been deemed unsafe, thus alerting future employees of potential risks inside the homes. It also sets up a system of fines to punish violators of these new codes.