On March 19 California Governor Gavin Newsom led the nation in issuing a statewide stay-at-home order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Among those deemed vital were home health aides and “workers who provide support to vulnerable populations to ensure their health and well-being including family care providers.” This often-invisible workforce of nannies, house cleaners, and personal care attendants not only sanitizes dwellings, but also cleans and nourishes the families within—crucial work at the center of combating the pandemic. However, care and related domestic workers, who labor in over 2 million households statewide, lack proper equipment for their own health and safety and are excluded from the state’s health and safety law. This could finally change with the introduction of new legislation, SB 1257, which would expand the rules of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to cover all workers—especially if domestic workers and their allies, who have just launched a campaign for its passage, have their way.
It’s long been thought that, as one Santa Monica businessman put it back in 1974, “Being against health and safety is like being against motherhood and apple pie.” He was wrong. The legislators who passed the nation’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) in 1971, and its California counterpart in 1973, barred from workplace protections those who care for children, elders, and people with disabilities. Residential employers of anyone who performed “ordinary domestic household tasks” were left off the hook. Thus, nearly a half century later–during a moment of wildfires, pandemics, and floods—millions of household workers remain excluded from the occupational health and safety coverage that protects the rest of us.