No, let us not make hiring difficult

The California State Assembly has passed a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (AB 889) and sent it to the State Senate for consideration. This bill would specially regulate the wages, hours, and working conditions of domestic work employees and would give them the same basic labor-law protections as other California workers. While I do not question the sponsors’ motives, I do question their judgment in passing this unnecessary and ill-advised legislation at this time.

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In a free market economy such as ours, goods and services should be priced by supply and demand. Any impediment from the government, local or federal, to hiring simply means that fewer jobs will be created. The large employers will take their jobs to anywhere in the world with a more conducive business climate while employers of domestic workers—often the frail and elderly on fixed income—will simply not hire a helper. Instead, many will simply move to assisted care and nursing homes and claim the subsidies from Med-Cal to pay for it, thus transferring the burden to the tax payers and straining the state budget. Also, adding a layer of bureaucracy will do little to stem “underground caregivers” from working with/for homeowners.

California has over 4 million seniors, the highest in the nation, 19.2% of whom live on incomes less than the federal poverty level and most of them require assistance with daily living. Home care providers estimate that this bill will raise their costs by 30-40% that will be passed on to the senior citizen customers.

Our nation is reeling from large scale unemployment at this time. California leads the pack with a 12% rate that discounts the folks that have stopped looking for work or are making do with seasonal or part time work. This is the time when governments at all levels should be using every lever available to allow every person to compete for every available opportunity for work or trade—from tax breaks and reducing onerous regulation. That is the only way we can dig ourselves out of this recession and restore our economic strength.

The best thing to happen to anyone is a paycheck; this bill, however well intentioned, will have the unintended consequence of taking that paycheck away from many workers while hurting our neediest seniors and the disabled. Yes, President Bill Clinton raised the minimum wage in 1996 and still presided over the largest economic expansion in a generation—he was wise to do it on an economic upswing and had an astute ability to raise consumer, employer and corporate confidence. We do not have that luxury today
Let Government get out of the way. Let domestic workers keep their jobs and the grandpas and grandmas enjoy their independent freedom of living in their own homes with caring assistants.

Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.


Yes, domestic workers are not domesticated animals

Domestic workers fill crucial gaps in modern America by helping accomplish all the things that need to be done but don’t attract mainstream workers—this spans a wide spectrum, ranging from looking after children to seniors. Candidates for such jobs probably realize that such work is not the typical 9-5 job since human relationships work with neither clockwork periodicity nor predictability. However, the fact that they have jobs which may require longer hours on a frequent basis should not make domestic workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Such abuse and exploitation of domestic workers is so common that it may be taken to be the norm. The phenomenon seems to involve pillars of society, as evidenced by the conviction of the Sabnanis of Muttontown, New York, in 2007 for exploiting their Indonesian domestic workers.The horrors inflicted on the poor domestic workers included being beaten with brooms for “stealing”  food from garbage bags due to inadequate nutrition. The exploited parties in such cases are no longer domestic workers, they are more like slaves.

The profile of domestic workers in California is ideal for exploitation—they may be undocumented, invariably don’t speak English, have no awareness of their rights, and are prepared to do anything not to return or be returned to the pain and poverty of their homelands. They take up the work that nobody else wants, are underpaid when not unpaid, and are systematically exploited physically, emotionally, and psychologically. One wonders what the employers’ incentives are in hiring workers who are untrained and are difficult to communicate with. Wouldn’t hiring a worker to assist seniors involve checking for certification besides a criminal check to see if the candidate has abused vulnerable seniors in the past? The only way of making sense of hiring a person whose lack of qualification confronts the employer is the potential for economic exploitation. Arguments about allowing market forces to “set” wages in such situations are euphemisms that make exploitation legal and acceptable; there is an incentive to be abusive.

The Bill of Rights actually works towards the employers’ advantage by allowing them to set qualifications and minimum standards for employment in exchange for a decent wage.

Lastly, the proof of such laws is in the pudding—the skies have not crashed in New York state which passed a similar law in 2010. One doesn’t hear about the exploitation of au pairs because their rights are protected under federal law.

The Bill of Rights introduces much needed legislation and levels the ground between employers and employee. It should be applauded and upheld for preventing the reduction of domestic workers to domesticated animals.

Toronto based S.Gopikrishna writes on issues of importance to Indians.

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