Martha Herrera

Caring for children is Norma Miranda’s passion. The 61-year-old Tarzana resident has been helping families for nearly one-third of her life since she arrived in Southern California two decades ago, occasionally combining it with cleaning homes to make ends meet. “I love to care for young kids,” she says, adding with a quip “I feel more like a mom than a cleaning lady.”

But Miranda worries about getting sick or having an accident at work and being forced to take time off without pay, she wonders how she would cover expensive medical care out of her own pocket, and the work arrangements that could even risk her life. 

“I had to work through the pandemic and had to take the bus to work every day, and I caught COVID three times,” she says. Still, she considers herself fortunate. “Another nanny I knew died from COVID. Like me, she took public transportation to get to work.”

Norma Miranda (left) and Martha Herrera (right).

A new bill aims to help hundreds of thousands of nannies like Miranda and other domestic workers to get protection enjoyed by most Californians under the state’s worker protection laws. Until now, the definition of “employment” in the California Labor Code has excluded “household domestic service.” That means that employers of the state’s estimated 360,000 domestic workers are not obligated to take steps to keep workers safe. Senate Bill 686 will change that. 

Dubbed the Health and Safety for All Workers Act, SB 686 was introduced in late February by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles). One of the bill’s co-authors, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Glendale), represents part of the Valley. 

“For too long, the workers we entrust to care for our loved ones and our homes have been endangered, marginalized and dehumanized by the intentional exclusion from California’s workplace protection laws,” said Durazo in a press statement to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. She highlighted the risks taken by domestic workers during the COVID-19 health crisis and recent wildfires in the Golden State. “These domestic workers have suffered through the pandemic and through our changing climate with extreme heat and wildfire smoke without the protections guaranteed to all other occupations.”

In addition to nannies and house cleaners, domestic workers can also include caregivers for seniors, attendants for people with disabilities and cooks.

This week, Durazo, a former labor leader in LA, held a press conference in Sacramento along with representatives of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and domestic workers.

“We’ve been fighting for this [change] for many years,” said Martha Herrera, a nanny, in an exclusive interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol before the press event at the state capital. “This legislation is an important step forward and I would be happy if it becomes law.” 

Herrera was one of two domestic workers speaking at the Capitol’s west steps. The nanny from the city of Richmond, California said she was negatively impacted and had nowhere to turn when she was injured on the job. Herrera said that she once strained her lower back when taking care of an 8-year-old girl with special needs. While giving her a bath one day, the girl slipped and Herrera said she held on to her to keep her from falling and getting hurt. “I strained my waist,” recalled the nanny, adding she spent three months in recovery.  

Her employers told her they felt bad for her and gave Herrera $300 to help with medicines, according to Herrera, but she wasn’t paid any wages during her recovery and was unable to work. She also ended up losing her job. Unable to pay for rent, Herrera had to move in with her sister. “I didn’t have any income at all,” she says. “I never heard from my employers again,” she adds. “It hurts when I remember what happened, and it gets me upset.”

There have been other legislative efforts in the past to offer basic protections to domestic workers.

Another proposed legislation three years ago called for the state to extend health and safety protections to domestic workers. California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed that bill in 2020, citing concerns that homes are unlike most other workplaces.

However, one year later, Newson signed into law Senate Bill 321, also authored by Durazo to create an advisory committee composed of members of the public and experts to develop guidelines to ensure the health and safety of domestic workers in the home setting. Published last January, one of the main recommendations is that the legislature remove the household domestic services exclusion from the definition of employment in the Labor Code. 

Other suggested best practices include that employers not ask domestic workers to clean wildfire ash, fix roofs or do labor requiring specialized training or equipment, and that toxic chemicals be labeled in the language workers understand. Other recommendations are the establishment of a Household Domestic Services Employment Safety Financial and Technical Assistance Program to provide one-time grants and technical assistance to household domestic service employers, as well as the expansion of the existing Domestic Worker and Employer Outreach and Education Program (DWEOP) to educate workers and their bosses about the rights and protections domestic workers have under California labor law.  

However, those guidelines are voluntary.

Now SB 686 hopes to turn those recommendations into law.

Durazo hopes her new proposal will convince the governor. “California can send a clear message by passing this bill, everyone deserves a safe workplace.”

Herrera herself expected to visit Newsom’s office to lobby for the governor’s support for SB 686 last Wednesday. She said, “We want the governor to listen to us, not to push us to the side, for him to see our struggle, that we want to move forward and that nothing is going to stop us.” She added, “As domestic workers, we hope we’ll accomplish our goals, we’ll succeed.”

Here in the Valley, Miranda ponders about an issue she says has always bothered her from some of her bosses. “If they let a person like me take care of their most precious treasures, their children, why do they try to lowball you when it comes to our wages?” says Miranda. “I’ve never understood that. Don’t they love their kids the most?”

Still, like Herrera, Miranda expressed hope the new proposed legislation will become a law and bring the change they’ve advocated for years. “We’ll continue with our fight, working with our domestic workers and immigrant coalitions.” She concluded emphatically, “Because when we fight together, we always prevail.”