The phrase would ordinarily bring to mind lurid images of politicians acting badly, but not so in California, where the legislature hopes to lend a hand to hard working housekeepers.

On June 1, 2011, the California Senate passed SB 432, which requires hotels, motels, and other “similar transient lodging establishments” to use fitted instead of flat sheets as bottom sheets on beds. As defined in the bill, a “fitted sheet” is “a bed sheet containing elastic or similar material sewn into each of the four corners that allows the sheet to stay in place . . . .”

A serious violation of the “fitted sheet” requirement could lead to a misdemeanor conviction, resulting in a fine of up to $1,000.00 and up to six months in prison.

The bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt the “fitted sheet” standard and a standard requiring hotels and motels to provide “long-handled tools” to housekeepers for cleaning bathrooms.

The bill is aimed at preventing work-related injuries of housekeepers by reducing the amount of heavy mattress-lifting and kneeling housekeepers do on the job. The bill does not address the heavy mattress-lifting that is still necessary to tuck-in top sheets.

Although the bill has not yet passed in the California Assembly, the bill is hardly hanging by a thin thread. SB 432 passed each Senate committee and on the Senate floor on straight party lines. On June 22, 2011, a slightly amended version of the bill also passed in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment on party lines. If this partisan trend continues, the bill will pass in the Assembly by a wide margin, as there are over twice as many Democrats on the Assembly Committee on Appropriations (where the bill is currently) as there are Republicans, and Democrats control the Assembly fifty-two to twenty-eight.

Since the bill passed the California Senate, 22 new organizations have lined up to oppose the bill, including several hotel and resort associations and the California Chamber of Commerce. Supporters of the bill include numerous labor unions, including UNITE HERE, which represents hotel workers, and the California Labor Federation, a union lobbying organization.