Los Angeles Times, By Brittny Mejia
As fires raged in California, Socorro Diaz found herself cleaning homes in neighborhoods that had been evacuated. The smoke and ash posed a danger, but employers did not provide the 39-year-old house cleaner with any protective equipment. Diaz, a leader with the Graton Day Labor Center in Sonoma County, did not want to lose her job so she kept on working. The consequences came later: respiratory problems so severe that a doctor prescribed her an inhaler that she used for weeks.
Her experience is far from unique. In the midst of disasters, such as fires and the current COVID-19 pandemic, domestic workers have repeatedly found themselves on the front lines with little protection. Although there are over 300,000 domestic workers employed as housekeepers, nannies and caregivers throughout the state, they have long been excluded from basic health and safety protections in the workplace.
This week, the California Domestic Workers Coalition launched a campaign to pass legislation that would change that. “Home care workers, care givers, house cleaners and nannies are on the front lines of the current pandemic,” Kimberly Alvarenga, director of the California Domestic Workers Coalition, said during a virtual news conference on Wednesday. “We can no longer leave workers behind in these times of crisis. Now is the time to make change.”
In February, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) introduced the Health and Safety for All Workers Act, which would eliminate the exclusion of “household domestic service” from protections provided by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.