Oregon House approves rights for domestic workers

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SALEM — The Oregon House narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday requiring overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections for housekeepers, nannies and in-home cooks.

Advocates said the legislation is needed to protect the largely female, immigrant workforce from abuses.

“The fact that these workers lack basic protections and work behind closed doors leave them extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” said Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, the bill’s primary sponsor.

With a 32-28 vote, the House sent the bill to the state Senate.

Opponents of the bill say the legislation was well-intentioned, but the language is too broad and unclear.

“I just think, in its current form, it’s not ready for prime time,” said Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, who voted against the bill.

Kennemer said the bill is imprecise, and as a result, employers could too easily be in violation.

Among other things, the bill would require employers to provide written notice regarding hours, wages and leave. It also stipulates that employers pay overtime if the person works more than 40 hours a week, or more than 44 hours a week for live-in domestic workers. Workers would have to be given one day off a week and time for at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Maria Cristina Castro said she’s had mixed experiences working as a housekeeper and nanny in Salem.

“I wish that the good experiences I had would be the rule of law for our employers,” Castro said.

Castro, however, said she has been told by employers that she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish, and she worked one job that paid only $5 an hour.

The bill also would protect domestic workers from verbal and physical abuse, and harassment based on gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or national origin. Employers would be prohibited from taking away a worker’s passport.

There are about 10,000 domestic workers in Oregon, according to testimony provided by Family Forward Oregon, a group that supports the bill. The organization said in written testimony that the majority of workers are hired without contracts and have little or no workplace protections.

“Many employers don’t see their domestic help as employees but instead think of them as members of the family who may not need accommodations for adequate rest, food, pay and freedom from harassment,” Gelser said.

To win support from lawmakers in the South, household workers and agricultural laborers were intentionally left out of the federal 1935 National Labor Relations Act that established basic labor protections.

The Oregon bill would not set a minimum wage standard for workers. State law requires some domestic workers, including live-in housekeepers, to be paid minimum wage.

Domestic workers who are paid by the state or employed by home health agencies or in-home care agencies are excluded under the bill.

The bill also excludes workers who are caring for developmentally disabled people and exempts baby sitters under 18 and independent contractors.

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