Newsom Twists and Turns Against Worker Protections

Worker in NYC cooperative Up & Go

Earlier this year we at Women Rising Radio posted a short article lauding the California governor’s announcement of  a commitment to support the state’s substantial population of undocumented and essential frontline workers, during the Covid-19 pandemic.   Governor Newsom said: 

“We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation but are still  addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians.  And that’s why I’m proud  as governor to be the first state to announce a program for direct disaster assistance to those individuals, a total of $125 million.” 

Since we published that piece, I as the author have wondered what proportion of that $125 million has actually been spent on the ground, in beneficial support for the undocumented doing the critical work to maintain us all, in this chaotic time. 

I haven’t been able to do that investigation, but Women Rising Radio is broadcasting program titled “Women Challenge Capitalism”, in which we visit with domestic workers spearheading workers’ cooperatives in New York City.   Those women, while they are not undocumented, faced exploitation and physical endangerment cleaning residences, until they formed cleaning cooperatives to protect them and their work. 

Domestic workers in the USA, primarily women and people of color, are excluded from OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) regulations and other protections offered workers.   The California state legislature just recently passed SB 1257,  to remedy that problem.  The bill removed the exclusion of domestic workers from CAL/OSHA, and gave them the same basic safety protections as other workers across the state, such as health and safety training, protective equipment, and legal protection against retaliation if they need to advocate for their own health and safety. at work. 

The bill was authored by Senator Maria Elena Durazo, and co-sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates, the California Domestic Workers’ Coalition, Worksafe, and the California Employment Lawyers Association.    

SB 1257 went to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom  for signing   –   and he vetoed it.   Why?!

In his veto statement he claimed that “…new laws in this area must recognize that the places where people live cannot be treated in the exact same manner as a traditional workplace or worksite from a regulatory perspective.”  Newsom claims that homeowners and renters lack some sort of “expertise” to follow the regulations. 

How complicated can those regulations possibly be?  They  would have been developed by an advisory committee of  owners and workers, to cover the needs of 300,000 domestic  workers, cleaners, caregivers, gardeners and others.  Surely the committee would have been able to tailor the protective regulations to the needs of both owners and workers. 

There’s a smelly rat here… domestic workers desperately need the regulations and protections that CAL/OSHA can provide, and what is Newsom really saying here?  He is saying that “private property” takes priority over the safety of workers.  

That smelly rat can grow and grow, very fat indeed.  If corporations can claim  –  as they do  –  that they are to be classed legally as “persons”, then what is to prevent them from claiming that they also should be exempt from OSHA regulations?   

This veto makes no sense whatsoever.   And it is very disappointing that evidently, this governor is willfully blind to the urgent situation of California’s domestic workers  –  particularly in the time of Covid 19. 

“I am very angry, very sad because I know that my work is worthy and deserves respect,” said Socorro Diaz, who has worked cleaning houses in California for 17 years.                      

Socorro Diaz and many other domestic workers are facing dire threats to their health and safety, and they wonder how they will struggle to protect themselves against the coronavirus when they are exposed to it at work, in peoples’ homes; on ranches and vineyards destroyed by fire and filled with toxic smoke and ash; and plagued with other dangers, for example concerning the mental health of people with whom caregivers work. 

Maegan Ortiz, executive director of the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA), said, “What are they going to tell women who can die from coronavirus because they contracted it at work?” Ortiz questioned. “Or if an accident happens? That’s why owners have home insurance. There are many regulations that the owners have  to follow.”

City University of New York found that more than 75% of  700 California domestic workers have had a work-related  injury, illness, wage theft incident or other harm in this past year.

Unprotected on the Job: How Exclusion from Safety and Health Laws Harms California Domestic Workers,” also found that 1 in 4 workers said they contracted a contagious disease at work in the past year. A similar number have experienced verbal or physical assault from employers or clients.

Dismaying hypocrisy from a governor thought to be pro-immigrant, pro-worker, pro-women… and in light of that desertion I am wondering again, just where that $125 million has gone – did it reach any undocumented immigrants at all? Shame and disgrace it if didn’t.