From Radley Balko, a man whose libertarianism is pure enough that I do believe his ideal world might mirror the anarchic hellhole that Snake Pliskin had to blast his way through, made a very good point today on the Twitters: California’s assembly just passed a lunatic bill that is the kind of thing that would make all of us libertarians if we think about it too hard.
The topic: babysitters’ rights.
I am obviously a partisan here. A large portion of my paycheck goes to paying our nanny/babysitter, and my wallet and conscience are in constant conflict. Ultimately, I think, conscience won: we play more than twice minimum wage, guarantee minimum weekly salary, with four weeks paid vacation and unlimited sick days. So I don’t believe I’m some sort of bastard sending our babysitter underpaid into the salt mines of childcare.
However, Assembly Bill 889 makes me seem like one. I love Tom Ammiano, the oft-heroic Supervisor from my former town of San Francisco, but he’s gotten into something weird here. To wit:
Under AB 889, household “employers” (aka “parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to pay at least minimum wage to any sitter over the age of 18 (unless it is a family member), provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers’ compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck.
I actually agree with about half of this. Minimum wage? Hell yes. Overtime? Sure. Keeping good records on a timecard is probably also a good idea. But worker’s comp? Do any of us have worker’s comp? Can we throw in a couple extra bucks an hour for that and health coverage? That’s probably a cop out, I know, but involving the state of California’s worker’s comp system in your childcare arrangement sounds like an invitation to bureaucratic trouble.
But the real clear crazy here is the mandatory breaks, the idea that you need to hire a babysitter to cover for your babysitter every two hours so that first babysitter can have a break/meal. Will you need to a hire a third babysitter to cover the second babysitter’s five-minute breaks? Has anyone who voted for (and passed!) this bill in the assembly actually tried to find a babysitter for a Friday night? How the hell are you supposed to find not just one, but a second one who will come in and work for 15 minutes every two hours.
I know it’s hard work taking care of someone else’s miscreants. I can barely take care of my own, and I happen to really dig them. But babysitters, as I know them, are not short of breaks. They set kids in front of Rio and bliss out on their phones. They drag them to faroff playgrounds for playdates with children who are way too old or way too young because the babysitters of those kids are their buddies. They text constantly. They are geniuses at carving out time for themselves.
Back to the good parts: I applaud elected officials for looking out for a working class constituency that doesn’t exactly have a powerful lobby. But the problem with labor reform in this country is that sometimes when pass an ambitious Swede-style package of rights, you’re squeezing an employer (in this case, a parent) who is already squeezed by the shitty economy themselves. It’s hard to give an employee far more protections and things like mandatory breaks when the employer has none of that either.
Classic race to the bottom, I know. We all stab each other in the back on the working end of the spectrum, and Goldman Sachs gets to roll in bathtubs of money. But this ain’t the solution.