October 1, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed two bills that worker advocates promoted. The Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act, AB 2676, required that farmworkers’ supervisors ensure the workers have continuous access to shade and enough cool water to drink one quart per hour during each shift; failing to provide water or shade under high heat conditions would be a misdemeanor punishable by fines or jail time.

The governor stated that instead of a new crime applying to one group of employers, the state should “continue to enforce our stringent standards for the benefit of all workers.” But Peter Dreier notes in the Huffington Post that California regulations issued in 2005 have not prevented heat deaths among farmworkers. He cites the 2008 death of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Jimenez, who collapsed after pruning in a vineyard for nine hours straight without water or shade, and the July death of Maximo Lopez Barajas who collapsed in 100+-degree heat while pruning in a pomegranate orchard.

Brown also vetoed the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (AB 889), which would have extended rights to overtime pay and rest and meal breaks to domestic employees. (I wrote about the bill here.) Hannah Dreier of the Associated Press reports that Brown, while stating that domestic workers deserve fair pay and safe working conditions, cited unanswered questions in explaining his veto:

Brown outlined his own list of eight questions in a veto message.

They include the effect of increased costs he said could burden the disabled and elderly and their families. He also suggested the additional cost could mean fewer jobs for domestic workers and strain state regulators trying to enforce the requirements. Moreover, he said, a drafting error would have cost the state more than $200 million annually because the bill would have applied to In-Home Supportive Service workers.

“In the face of consequences both unknown and unintended, I find it more prudent to do the studies before considering an untested legal regime for those that work in our homes,” Brown wrote.

I don’t know about all the particular circumstances Brown was referring to, but this isn’t a completely uncharted territory. The California bill was based on 2010 New York legislation, which has resulted in 80 investigations and $250,000 in recovered wages.

A subset of domestic workers, home care workers, still has a chance to receive the wage and hour protections that non-exempt employees in other industries enjoy under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. In December 2011, the Department of Labor published a proposed rule to amend FLSA regulations so that the “companions for the elderly” exemption could no longer be used to deny minimum-wage and overtime protections to home care workers who help clients with bathing, dressing, eating, wound care, and other essential activities (read more about the proposal and its projected impacts here). Given the current pace of regulatory activity, though, home care workers will likely need to wait until 2013 to learn the outcome of this proposal.

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