Many Employers Still Unaware of Nanny Law

By JULIE WATSON and MICHAEL VIRTANEN Associated Press ALBANY, N.Y. September 28, 2012 

Allison Julien worked for more than two decades as a nanny in New York, toiling 50 to 60 hours a week without overtime pay until the state enacted the nation's first bill of rights for domestic workers two years ago.
Since then, the Barbados immigrant says her job has changed dramatically. She still dedicates long hours to caring for children in Brooklyn's upscale Park Slope neighborhood but she now has a written contract with the parents who hired her, guaranteeing overtime. She is also assured one day off a week and three paid personal days yearly.
California could become the next state to adopt such legislation if the governor signs a similar bill in the next few days. Other states could follow, with efforts under way in Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Maryland for their own domestic worker bill of rights.
Although New York's Labor Department has investigated 80 cases since the law went into effect in late 2010 and recovered $250,000 in unpaid wages for domestic workers, getting the word out about the law remains a major hurdle, department spokesman Leo Rosales said. Authorities have reached out to community groups, employer organizations and foreign consulates to find those affected.
They are lessons supporters of a similar bill in California say they will take into account if it becomes law.

"The challenge is this industry and workforce is so fragmented and decentralized," said Helen Panagiotopoulos of the Domestic Workers United, a New York City-based advocacy group. "The workplace is in the privacy of someone's home. That's why we've started to use strategies to fight those challenges by training domestic workers to spread the word."

The group runs a 24-hour hotline to advise workers about their rights and offers a free monthly legal clinic.
Julien said the law has empowered her to demand what workers in other jobs were already getting.
"These bare minimum standards go a long way for a lot of people. I know firsthand that a lot of workers don't have these. A lot of us work seven days a week without overtime," she said.

Many domestic workers are immigrants who may be afraid to speak up or unaware of their rights, labor officials say. It also has taken time to raise awareness among employers.
In a survey conducted last year of more than 1,000 Brooklyn parents by the Park Slope Parents group, only 15 percent said they paid nannies overtime, while 44 percent said they paid the same rate after 40 hours a week.
Forty percent said they didn't ask their nannies to work extra hours. Pay ranged from $10.85 to $20 an hour, with an average of $16.41 for those paid on the books and $14.56 for those paid off the books. Only 17 percent kept records of work hours.

Susan Fox, a parent who founded the Park Slope group, said parents have limited knowledge of the law, with almost half those surveyed in 2011 saying either they hadn't heard of it or didn't think it applied to them, while 37 percent thought they were in compliance, and 18 percent thought they weren't.
Fox said her group held workshops but has found many parents who don't pay on the books
believe it does not apply to them.

"We tend to hear crickets about issues surrounding nannies, pay and laws, since the laws can be confusing, parents can be overwhelmed, overworked, and unable to pay exactly as the laws mandated," she said in an email to The Associated Press.

Domestic workers also often are confused about the law. Susan Tokayer, who owns a nanny agency in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., called Family Helpers, just north of New York City, said she gives clients information about the 2010 law but "I don't think it has made a difference."

She said many parents who paid under the table are probably not complying, while people who pay on the books, such as her clients, were already required under New York's existing labor laws to pay time-and-a-half as well as worker's compensation and disability. "It became a law again," she said.
She said it's standard practice to give nannies two weeks paid vacation in their first year,
which is more than the law requires.

As they did in New York, domestic workers played a key role in drafting California's bill.
Under New York's law, nannies, housekeepers and caretakers are given one day off per week, overtime pay for more than 40 hours a week, three paid day off annually, and legal recourse when their rights are violated. Live-in nannies receive overtime after a 44-hour work week.
The biggest difference between the bills was that California's workers set as a priority a requirement that employers provide an appropriate place for caretakers who spend the night, and uninterrupted sleep, said Andrea Cristina Mercado, the director of the California Domestic Worker Coalition, which led the effort on the West coast.
"Some have been forced to sleep on floor, or made to work throughout the night." Mercado said.
Paid vacation days were left off the table in California to ease the bill's passage, supporters said, but workers want meal breaks and rest periods.

Sabina Widmann, a 40-year-old San Diego marketing director, said she has always paid
overtime to her nanny who works more than 40 hours a week caring for her two daughters, ages 11 months and 5 years.

"I consider her to be like family. She is more than an employee," Widmann said, adding that she threw her a birthday party with her friends and allows her to meet up with her friends at the beach while she cares for her daughters.

Still, she has mixed feelings about the bill.
"I think requiring people to pay overtime is probably a good thing," she said. "But if they are going to require a lunch break, it's not going to work. Really that would hurt the nanny more than me because I would have to put the little one in day care then."

That concern was raised by many of the lawmakers who voted against the bill. If it becomes law, California's Department of Industrial Relations will hammer out those details by January 2014.
Supporters say employers will have the flexibility to work out compromises such as
compensating for working lunches or allowing on-duty breaks in the home, allowing them to rest when children take naps instead of being asked to do housework.

"We've heard concerns throughout our California campaign that providing these kinds of things for domestic workers is going to negatively impact people, negatively impact business, but we have not seen that to be the case in New York," Mercado said. "I think public education is key. We are looking to New York to learn from them on how to embark on a really ambitious public education campaign both for domestic workers and employers."
Watson reported from San Diego. Karen Matthews in New York also contributed to this report.
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Domestic Workers Unite to Demand Their Due




By Eleanor J Bader. For several years, Marguerite* had what she considered an ideal job. An immigrant from the island of Dominica, she worked as a nanny for two children, ages 3 and 5, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "The employer was great," she begins. "They paid for my health insurance, gave me two weeks paid vacation and several sick days, and treated me well."

Then an accident occurred. "I got hit by a car," said Marguerite. "I was badly injured and had to have surgery, then physical therapy, to fully recover. It took me nine months to feel well enough to return to work. By that time, the family had hired a new nanny and I had to find another job."

This time, Marguerite was not so lucky. "When the lady interviewed me, she made it seem perfect, but once I started I realized that she was going to pay me off the books. There is no health insurance, and she and her husband get very upset if I say no to them. They demand that I come in early, or stay late, and don't respect that I have a life of my own, a 12-year-old child of my own, who I have to care for. My mom helps me, but I hate that these people refuse to pay overtime and talk to me as if I'm a third grader."

Although Marguerite doesn't plan to stay at this job any longer than necessary, she also knows that, as a New Yorker, she has legal recourse. The Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, passed in 2010, guarantees all domestic workers in New York state - nannies, housekeepers, gardeners and providers of elder care - mandatory time-and-a-half after 40 hours of labor, one day off per week, and three paid holidays after the first year of employment.

To date, New York is the only state to afford domestic workers these protections, but California is presently poised to pass a similar bill, and next year, during the 2012-2013 legislative session, pro-domestic-worker legislation will be introduced in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington.

By all accounts, the challenge of organizing a large workforce that typically works in isolated private homes is enormous; the number of domestic workers is estimated at 2.5 million today but expected to grow to 4 million by 2016. But the need for solidarity is also great. According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) the median pay for all direct care workers in 2011 was $10.59 an hour, nearly $6 less than the hourly median earned by workers outside of direct care. Not surprisingly, nearly half of all domestic laborers, 47 percent, receive food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized housing, or subsidies for home energy or child care.

Ai-jen Poo was one of the founders of the New York-based Domestic Workers United - the group that spearheaded the campaign for passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights - and now heads the five-year-old National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). "Domestic Workers United emerged in 2000 to organize an industry-wide, multiracial voice for domestic workers, one focused on organizing previously unorganized groups of women, most of them immigrants," she says.

"NDWA, the national group, was formed in 2007 at the US Social Forum by 13 organizations from six cities. Over the past few years, we've grown to 35 groups from 17 cities in 11 states."

The group's mission has expanded from an initial focus on nannies to include organizing home health aides and eldercare providers, Poo says. The reason? Pragmatics. Poo reports that several years ago, DWU members began asking for training in elder care. "They were being asked to care for aging relatives in the home, and since so many were being pulled in to fill the care gap within families, it became obvious that we had to mobilize. We recognized that between people living longer and baby boomers starting to turn 65, we'd soon have the largest older population we've ever had in this country. The need for long-term care is skyrocketing. The squeeze is now on, and the question of how to support families and keep people in their homes as long as possible represents a huge political opportunity."

NDWA calls it Caring Across Generations, a broad national effort to bring seniors, the disabled, and their caregivers and families into coalition to demand that the federal government create 2 million new home care jobs, with career advancement opportunities and a path to citizenship for those workers who want it. The campaign is also calling for the expansion of Medicare to cover in-home services, something that is currently not offered.

PHI is actively supporting Caring Across Generations - as are numerous trade unions and religious, immigrant and workers' rights groups - and is pushing to change the law that treats home care workers differently from workers in other sectors. According to the PHI web site, the problem dates back to 1974, when Congress amended the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to include chauffeurs, cleaners, full-time nannies and housekeepers, but defined those who assist the elderly and disabled as "companions," thereby exempting them from minimum wage requirements and overtime protections.

"Caregiving is hard work, but it is not as valued or respected as it should be," argues Karen Kahn, PHI's director of communications. "On the deepest level, the issue we have to confront is that women are expected to do this work for their families - regardless of whether they have jobs outside the home or have the skill and temperament to do so. In addition, there is still not consensus that caregiving is a government responsibility."

"I also don't think there's enough recognition that caring for children, elders and people with disabilities is a great way to keep our economy going," said Kahn. "When home care workers earn money, they spend money."

"We are not saying that families have no responsibility, but the issue is how we, as a country, can help them meet this responsibility. We have to decide what we're willing to pay for and recognize that domestic labor is real labor."

Tracy Scott, a 56-year-old technical writer from Brooklyn, got a crash course in the realities of elder care last spring when she and her brothers had to hire a live-in caregiver for their parents. "My parents - my dad is 89 and visually impaired and my mom is 84 and has severe osteoporosis and is recovering from open-heart surgery - are depleting their savings to pay for this, but it is still cheaper than a nursing home, which can run $70,000 per person per year, and which they did not want," she says. "Lidia gets room and board and is paid $135 a day. She helps my mom with bathing and with getting dressed, prepares meals, does the laundry and dishes, takes my mom to medical appointments, and dispenses her medication. She does not clean the house or go grocery shopping, but she makes sure that my mom walks every day and is effectively doing physical therapy with her. She has skills that no one in my family has, like knowing how to move my mom from her wheelchair to the chair in the shower."

What's more, having Lidia in the home 24 hours a day, seven days a week means that Scott's parents can remain in the residence they've lived in since 1969. That said, Scott worries about what will happen when her parents' savings are depleted. Under current law, once they "spend down," they may be eligible for Medicaid but can be asked to sign a lien, agreeing to reimburse the government for their care once they pass on and their home is sold.

Scott says that she and her siblings will cross that bridge when they come to it. Nonetheless, she is angry about the lack of support for people who are vulnerable. "Both daycare and elder care should be government responsibilities," she concludes. "People need to be adequately cared for, and workers need to be adequately compensated to ensure that they're not exploited. It's great that government funds senior centers, but it also needs to do something for those who are not mobile."

One step involves amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to include "companions," a campaign that has the support of President Obama but is being opposed by Republicans. Another move is passing and then enforcing bills like the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Priscilla Gonzalez is the executive director of Domestic Workers United. "We're working in collaboration with the New York State Department of Labor to make information on the law available to both domestic workers and the people who employ them," she says. "A hotline - 646-699-3989 - is available for people to call and we've set up a legal clinic in conjunction with the Urban Justice Center."

"Over the last few years," said Gonzalez, "we've been able to settle more than 75 percent of the cases that have come in without having to go to court. In addition, we've created something akin to shop stewards. We've trained members - we call them ambassadors - to go into neighborhoods where large numbers of domestic workers live or work. They distribute Know Your Rights fact sheets and serve as advisers. So far, we've trained 25 ambassadors."

While the word ambassador might sound grandiose to some, both NDWA and DWU emphasize the importance of grassroots, on-the-ground organizing. "Organizing domestic workers is a way to connect disparate movements," Yashna Padamsee, administrative coordinator of NDWA, stresses. "When domestic workers speak, they don't just speak as domestic workers. They speak as immigrants, as women, as people who give care and receive care. When we talk about an issue, we connect it to other issues. We look for the intersectionality, the ways things connect, the places where the personal and political intertwine."

Nellie, a 52-year-old Guyanese immigrant who has worked as a nanny for more than 30 years, is well aware of the ways anti-immigrant attitudes, racism, sexism and the violation of workers' rights can collide in the workplace. "Being a nanny is not a job for a machine," she says. "I love kids and love watching them. I clean, feed and take excellent care of every child in my charge. But it takes energy to do this. I've had bosses who've wanted me to iron and do laundry while the kids nap as if I don't need a break during the day. I've had employers who've wanted to hold my passport while I worked for them. I tell them" 'No way. I am a human being just like you. How you want to be treated is how I should be treated.'

"Taking care of kids, or taking care of old people or those who are sick, is the most important work a person can do. It makes me furious when bosses treat domestic workers rudely - I heard about a woman who was called a black bitch by her boss - or don't want to pay us what we deserve. At the same time, I know that many people are scared for their jobs, afraid that if they talk about their rights, the boss will hire someone else, or even worse, call immigration and have them deported. This is not an easy fight, but we have to do something."

Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:59 By Eleanor J Bader, Truthout | Report

*The names of all the workers interviewed for this story have been changed.


Source URL:

Domestic workers earned rights bill.

Domestic workers earned rights bill. New York Daily News, Albor Ruiz.

Wright’s bill would for the first time give these women rights as real workers and equality under the law. Listen to these women recount their experiences and the urgency of passing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights becomes evident.

Women’s Work. New York Times, Editorial.

Listening to domestic workers talk about their jobs can give a rude jolt to assumptions about social progress and the civility of the rich and upper middle class.

Click Here for Full Article

News Story 1

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