AB 889: Recognizing Worker’s Rights

In California on April 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm

[The following is a statement prepared for a press conference on April 17th]

I’d just like to start with the background that put this bill in perspective for me, and made me realize how important it is. According to a UCLA study on wage theft against low-wage workers in LA, found that three out of four child care workers are the targets of minimum wage violations. Child care workers were the most likely to experience minimum wage violations, but their findings for other domestic workers were abominable as well. One in three maids and housekeepers, and one in five home health care workers in the study experienced minimum wage violations. [1]

This adds up. The legislative analysis for this bill cited an estimation that there are 200,000 domestic workers in this state.[2] The UCLA study estimated that on average workers lose $39.81 out of $318.00 per week, or 12.5 percent. Assuming that violations in LA are representative of the state, an extremely conservative estimate of annual wages lost by all domestic workers in the state would be 414 million dollars per year. [1]

What is happening right now is labor rights violation on a massive scale, but the arguments against it are mainly economic: increased costs for casual employers, increased costs for violators, increased administrative costs etc. (Costs which a UC Berkeley fact sheet found to be minimal [3], or which the legislative analysis said are covered by state surcharges [2]) But even if these were valid economic arguments, they have no place in a discussion of rights. And this is where students should find common struggle.

California students are offered economic explanations for why their fees increase and their education is cut. Of course, there are very strong economic arguments for why hikes and cuts should not happen. But more importantly, as in the case of domestic workers rights, economic explanations are in some ways inappropriate to address an issue of rights: the right to a healthy work environment, the right to an education.

Claiming higher education as a right is relatively new, and it is part of our struggle for it to be recognized as such. But the right to a healthy work environment is not new, and in many ways it is much more fundamental. Denial of a right to higher education can mean debt, unemployment, and lost human potential. But denial of a right to healthy work can mean stress, depression, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, [3] and even injury resulting in permanent disability. That is why the right to a healthy work environment is already recognized and enforced for workers in other occupations. It is a tragic failure of our public discourse that this bill is as controversial as it is.

Students especially, should apply themselves to understand this bill, and to recognize the shared struggle represented in it, and to express their solidarity by explaining this bill to those who misunderstand it, and to endorse this bill as part and parcel of a struggle for human dignity and basic rights. I certainly do.


[1] Cited in legislative analysis:
Word Doc:
UCLA Study:
[2] Word Doc:


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