Proposed California Babysitter Law Could Give Workers More Benefits but Sparks Outrage

The bill would require mandatory breaks, overtime pay and minimum wage.

September 02, 2011, 4:09 PM

Sept. 2, 2011— -- A new domestic workers rights bill pending in California's Senate could give child care workers a slew of new benefits and leave a big dent in parents' pocketbooks.

The bill would apply to all domestic workers, such as nannies, housekeepers and elderly caretakers, and would require mandatory breaks, overtime pay and the minimum wage.

"I don't think it's very realistic in this field," said Bob French, general manager of the household help agency Sandra Taylor in Los Angeles.

If bill AB 889 turns into law, costs for parents who employ workers regularly to watch their children, could rise. Breaks would be required, specifically a 10-minute rest every four hours and a 30-minute meal break after five hours.

In addition, workers who live in or work 24-hour shifts would gain the right to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, and those working more than five consecutive hours would be allowed to use their employers' kitchens free of charge to cook their own food.

California's Proposed Babysitter Law Gets Spanked

The bill, written by San Francisco Democrat Tom Ammiano, was slammed in an op-ed written by Republican State Sen. Doug LaMalfa.

But Ammiano's office said the criticism is unjustified and that the bill, which has been suspended in the Senate and won't be up for vote again until at least January, will not apply to casual babysitters.

"The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is not about babysitters. It's about extending the same basic labor protections that all other California workers already have to the 200,000 domestic workers who provide care to our disabled and elderly," Ammiano said in a statement today, calling LaMalfa's input on the bill "wild accusations."

LaMalfa contends that casual babysitters over the age of 18 will be affected, and that parents will be legally obligated to pay minimum wage, "provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks" and be responsible for worker's compensation and overtime pay.

"The unreasonable costs and risks contained in this bill will discourage folks from hiring," LaMalfa said in his op-ed, calling AB 889 "a terrible bill that needs to be stopped."

Julie Carnesi, a mother of two in Northern California, said that when she first heard about the bill her jaw dropped and she started laughing.

She thinks California lawmakers should stay focused on more serious problems and worries that if the bill passes parents will simply employ minors to watch their kids instead of paying their current employees more.

"I think it's going to be a safety issue," she said. "Parents are going to be kind of forced to hire people with less experience."

On Facebook, mothers reacting to news of the proposed bill on the international parent group Mothers of Preschoolers' page echoed Carnesi's complaints.

"What about mandatory breaks for moms? or do you only get a break if you're PAID to do it? Lame law!" (sic) wrote Jennifer Warren.

Ammiano's office says additional employees will not be required to cover breaks for domestic workers, and that the bill simply grants the same rights that other California workers currently have.

French, who has worked in the domestic employment industry for 40 years, finds California's current labor laws for domestic workers to be among the best in the country. He said workers and families typically work out a flexible schedule that benefits both parties.

"Regulations probably won't be improving too much with the economy," he said.

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