Brown vetoes Calif. domestic workers rights bill

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have provided overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections to an estimated 200,000 caregivers, nannies and house cleaners in California.

Brown called their work a "noble endeavor" and said they deserve fair pay and safe working conditions.

But the Democratic governor said the bill "raises a number of unanswered questions," prompting him to reject the measure. It was among dozens of bills he acted on in the final hours before his midnight deadline to consider bills sent to him this fall by the Legislature.

Advocates said the legislation, dubbed the Domestic Workers of Bill of Rights, is necessary to protect a primarily female, immigrant workforce from abuse. They were successful in persuading New York lawmakers to pass similar legislation in 2010.

Among other things, the bill would have required that live-in workers be compensated if their rest period was interrupted during an eight-hour period and eased eligibility requirements for workers' compensation.

The California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed AB889. They argued that labor laws carve out an exception for domestic workers for a reason: providing meal breaks and uninterrupted rest periods for caretakers is impractical at best and dangerous at worst.

It was unclear how the legislation by Assemblymen Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, would have been enforced and whether it would have extended to part-time workers such as baby sitters. It called for the Department of Industrial Relations to set regulations by January 2014.

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.

California has become a focal point in the national debate over domestic worker protections because of its size and large immigrant workforce. The bill has drawn some high-profile support, including a videotaped endorsement from comedian and "Parks and Recreation" star Amy Poehler.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance - an advocacy group with 35 local affiliates around the country - has used popularity of the Oscar-nominated film "The Help" to power a national campaign that urges fans to "be the help." The group is helping promote similar laws in Massachusetts, Illinois and Hawaii.

New York is the only state that already has implemented union-style rights for domestic workers. Those regulations have led to back pay and overtime penalty awards, according to the Urban Justice Center, which provides legal assistance to domestic workers in Manhattan.