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San Francisco becomes first U.S. city to require paid sick leave for domestic workers

'I think these people have been taking care of people in San Francisco for a long time, and it's about time we care for them.'

San Francisco becomes first U.S. city to require paid sick leave for domestic workers
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Ashish Kumar / EyeEm

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a groundbreaking legislation this week to provide paid sick leave for domestic workers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the ordinance passed on Tuesday is the first of its kind in the U.S. and would affect the city's roughly 10,000 people who work in private homes to clean, cook, tend children, garden, do personal organizing or provide non-medical care for seniors or disabled residents. Supporters of the legislation said that the new measure is necessary as this workforce is typically low-paid with many women and immigrants.


"I think these people have been taking care of people in San Francisco for a long time, and it's about time we care for them," said Supervisor Myrna Melgar who co-sponsored the measure with Supervisor Hillary Ronen. Melgar said she has seen firsthand the struggles of domestic workers as her parents worked cleaning houses and other low-wage jobs when her family immigrated from El Salvador. They couldn't get sick "or else there would be no food on the table," she said. Kimberly Alvarenga, executive director of the California Domestic Workers Coalition, said the pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of domestic workers because "if they didn't go to work, they didn't get paid."


"If they became ill with the virus, if family members became ill with the virus, they had no choice," Alvarenga said. "If they didn't go to work, they didn't get paid. They were put in an impossible situation with absolutely no economic safety net to support them. This ordinance will provide some equity so when they become ill, they can take a day to take care of themselves, children or family members." She hailed the vote as "an important and historic step along the path to bringing equity and access to domestic workers."


The trailblazing measure—called "Domestic workers equal access to paid sick leave"—addresses the fact that many domestic workers may work for multiple households by creating a portable paid sick leave benefit that would let workers aggregate hours from multiple employers to count toward their sick pay. If the legislation comes into effect, an employer would pay one hour of wages into the fund for every 30 hours of service from a domestic worker. Fifty nine-year-old Martha Garrido, who works for about seven to eight San Francisco households to do cleaning and care for elderly people, now hopes "word of this ordinance passing spreads across the country so other domestic workers know this is possible."


Garrido revealed that when she fell and broke her arm while cleaning earlier this year, she had to continue working as she relies on the money she earns to support her mother and four children in Peru. "We domestic workers, our families often depend on us," she said. According to CBS News, speaking before her colleagues on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Ronen said: "Under current law, all San Francisco workers are entitled to paid sick time, which accrues based on hours worked. Although they have the right to paid sick leave, in reality very few domestic workers are able to access this benefit."


On Wednesday, the new ordinance was applauded by Mujeres Unidas y Activas, or MUA, a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women based in San Francisco. "We hope that the San Francisco portable benefits system will serve as a model for other cities in the Bay Area and for the rest of the state," the group said in a news release. "Making safety net benefits accessible is not only a matter of equity but also part of our vision for the future of the domestic work industry."


While promising, the proposal still has to pass through a few more steps before coming into effect. The measure needs a second vote by the supervisors and must be signed by Mayor London Breed. It would then take several months for the city to hire a private company to administer the benefits program.

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