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Newsom vetoes workplace safety protections for California housekeepers

California’s housekeepers and nannies won’t get workplace safety protections, after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Saturday that would have included the industry in labor laws already granted to other workers.

The decision is a major loss for unions and immigrant rights advocates who have fought for years for regulation of an industry dominated by women of color who have reported injuries on the job but are exempt from Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.

Newsom said that although he is “committed to the well-being of domestic workers,” private households cannot be regulated in the same way that businesses are. Under this legislation, private households would be required to provide eyewash stations if workers use bleach and could face fines up to $15,000 per safety violation.

“The households that employ domestic workers include middle- and low-income families and older Californians who require daily assistance, ranging from personal care to home cleaning to childcare,” he said in a veto message Saturday. “I am particularly concerned given that approximately 44% of the households that employ domestic workers are low-income themselves, that this bill creates severe cost burdens and penalties for many people who cannot afford them.”

This is the second time Newsom has vetoed proposed safety regulations for domestic workers such as housecleaners and caretakers, citing similar privacy and liability concerns about enforcement in 2020.

The California Domestic Workers Coalition had ratcheted up the pressure this time around, protesting in Sacramento armed with brooms and dusters. Just this week, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and renowned labor activist Dolores Huerta joined in calls for Newsom to “do the right thing.”

Saturday’s veto comes despite a recommendation from a statewide advisory committee to end the 50-year Cal/OSHA exclusion of domestic workers — an omission that advocates say is rooted in sexist and racist policies dating back to slavery.

That committee — made up of private employers, workers, advocates and health and safety experts — was created by legislation that Newsom signed in 2021 as part of a promise to continue working on a solution.

Voluntary industry guidelines were created by the committee to prevent “slips and trips,” injuries from lifting heavy items and allergic reactions and occupational asthma from chemicals in cleaning products.

A report by the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program in 2020 found that 85% of domestic workers surveyed experienced musculoskeletal injuries, and that many common injuries could be avoided with regulatory protections such as use of proper equipment such as long-handled tools to limit bending and reaching.

The bill by state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) had a long list of supporters, including SEIU California, the California Immigrant Policy Center and the Legislative Women’s Caucus, and no official opposition.

But it was expected to cost at least $42 million annually at a time when the state is facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

Nancy Zuniga, a program manager for the immigrant nonprofit Instituto de Education Popular del Sur de California, advocated for the bill.

She remembers watching her mother, pregnant with her little sister, slip and nearly fall while mopping someone else’s floor as she tagged along on a cleaning job when she was just 6 years old.

Her life was so shaped by her mother’s domestic work that she was named “Nancy” after one of the employers she nannied for. At a march in Sacramento last month, Zuniga joined housekeepers and nannies in rallying for safety protections. Some brought their children along just as her mother did.

Zuniga’s mother is still cleaning houses at 63, but Zuniga hopes she can retire one day.

“If we don’t protect domestic workers, what condition will she be in when she reaches that moment?,” she said. “A lot of them will do this until they pass.”

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