An article in the San Francisco Chronicle (October 14, 2009) highlights the story of Vilma Serralta, a now 71-year-old live-in housekeeper who worked 14 hours a day for four years. She was paid between $1,000 and $1,300 a month, and was given five-minute breaks with Saturday and part of Sunday off every other week.
Serralta was reportedly fired for leaving chicken bones in a garbage overnight. She eventually filed a lawsuit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount.
According to the article, live-in domestic workers are entitled to both minimum wage and to overtime pay after nine hours of work in one day or more than five days in a week. The problem is that many live-in domestic workers do not know their rights and are often isolated from other, similarly situated employees. Therefore their rights are difficult to enforce.
A 2007 report, titled "Behind Closed Doors: Working Conditions of California Household Workers," found that 99 percent of those who responded to the Household Worker Rights Coalition Survey were born outside of the United States. Furthermore, 98 percent of the respondents were women and 94 percent were Latinas. The report, published by Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Day Labor Program Women's Collective of La Raza Centro Legal, and DataCenter, noted that the survey shows that live-in domestic workers are a vulnerable group. "Rampant abuses of household workers must be addressed," the report says.
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Approximately 90 percent of those who worked overtime said they did not always receive overtime pay, while 31 percent worked more hours than agreed upon and 22 percent were paid less than agreed upon. Meanwhile, approximately 80 percent said they did not always receive proper meal breaks.
As the report shows, live-in domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse, including violations of overtime pay regulations. Although Serralta's settlement is a victory for domestic workers, there are many other domestic employees who do not know that they are being paid far less than they are entitled to for the work they do. There are also employers out there who are more than willing to take advantage of their employees' lack of knowledge about their rights.