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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Labor Organizer: Nannies Are ‘Invisible Army’ Underlying The Economy

Domestic workers in California demonstrate in favor of a bill of rights, similar to what organizer Ai-jen Poo created in New York. (Courtesy of Domestic Workers Alliance)

Domestic workers in California demonstrate in favor of a bill of rights, similar to what organizer Ai-jen Poo created in New York. (Courtesy of Domestic Workers Alliance)

Here & Now Guest:

Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Ai-jen Poo became interested in the plight of nannies and housekeepers after meeting a Jamaican domestic worker. That worker had left her home country with high hopes, only to end up toiling long hours,  allegedly without pay, in an employer’s home for 16 years, according to a New York Times profile of Poo.

Poo has come across several similar stories, and she’s been working to organize domestic workers to get better workplace treatment, increased pay and benefits.

She helped create and now directs the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a collection of dozens of domestic workers’ organizations across the country. She also helped form the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York that establishes a basic standard of pay and vacation for workers.

Poo says it’s important to protect domestic workers, who form an “invisible army of workers that goes into people’s homes… before the sun rises oftentimes, to allow for all the other workers, in corporate law firms, professors, doctors… to go to work and do what they do.”

“It just really points to how invisible, yet vital, this workforce is in the economy,” Poo told WBUR’s Here & Now.


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  • SomMom

    Rather than casting this as an issue of “political correctness,” it should be cast as a feminist issue. These domestics are largely female, and they are largely making life easier for the women in the families who hire them.

    I do not have any domestic help, and I do all the childcare, and my husband and I share the cleaning, shopping, etc. — and I work. I have no problem seeing that domestic workers need to be paid living wages!

  • Jonathon K.

    The idea of protecting domestic workers from things like sexual harassment is laudable and there already exists legislation against that. However, raising the amounts they make and the benefits they receive by law just makes them unhirable. They get paid little b/c their job is not necessary. If all of the domestic workers went on strike for a day, people would do their own chores and save a little money.

    • SomMom

      In the case of domestic workers who are also providing childcare, if they went on strike, their employers would be in trouble. They’d either have to stay home from their own jobs or find spur-of-the-moment childcare, which isn’t easy to do.

      Even in the case of cleaners, think about how much you would want to be paid to clean someone else’s toilet?

    • Stephanie

      You will be treated as you treat others. You get what you pay for!

    • Stephanie Felzenberg

      Do you really think hundreds of thousands of parents not being able to go work wouldn’t matter? Childcare is essential to our economy. QUALITY childcare in the home following the directions of the parents is vital to our economy and for raising future generations.

    • Debbie

      The parents wouldn’t save money, since they wouldn’t be able to go to work.

  • Paula Oliveira

    I am working as a Coordinator of Vida Verde Co-Op with about 16 workers  in Boston area. We support the idea of taking women out of exploitation supporting a project that defends the use of green cleaning products that are safe to the workers and clients health as well protecting the Enviroment.

  • Jeffrey D. Ballinger

    The more people that get organized into unions, the easier it will be to fight the corporate takeover of our government.  It used to be that unions were some counter-balance to big business but, once they took several million good unions jobs abroad the number of private-sector workers in unions dropped to under 10%.  I believe that Ai-jen is doing very important work.

  • PS Frog

    It seems to me that if a person wanting a full-time nanny doesn’t want to research the rules for being an employer then they should hire their nanny through a “nanny” company specializing in placing nannies.  It may cost more, but a “nanny” company can make sure everyone is in compliance and paying properly (taxes, wages, etc).

  • BHA in Vermont

    Isn’t it sad that there are so many people with money who think domestic help is equivalent to a slave. I’m sure that a lot of this domestic help is illegal and the employers know they have no recourse to poor treatment. Still, the immorality and inhumanity is amazing to me.

    These people have jobs that pay them enough to hire domestic help. It shouldn’t be very hard for them to figure out how to be an employer. These domestic worker employers should be able to understand simply by looking at their OWN employment situation that people get days off, paid holidays, paid vacations, fair treatment, etc.

    We hired a father-son contractor team to rehab our house 20 years ago. It was a 3 month job, they set the hourly rate. It was never specified in the contract, but we gave them paid afternoons off when it was unreasonably hot to work on the roof. We also paid them for holidays and a few other days off. It REALLY isn’t hard to figure out how to properly treat people you employ whether it be a short or long term job.

    • PS Frog

      Did you withhold taxes and pay employer portion of FICA and medicare?  (an additional 7.65%)  What about state unemployment tax?  FUTA?  Did you pay for workers compensation insurance so they were covered if injured?

  • Libobstruction

    Listened to a little bit of the conversation about these so-called “domestic” pay issues just now…..Let me tell both host and guest what a “fair wage” is. A fair wage is whatever the employer and soon-to-be employee agree to, whether that means $100 a week, $1000, or 10,000 a week, it is fair as long as both parties agree to it. If you start and then consider the job to be non-agreeable then simply quit and find another one more suiting. Nothing more need be said.

    • Chrystal

      I would agree with that except that there are laws that overrule an agreement.  An employer still needs to follow the fair labor standards act.  This provides ground rules for fair pay.  A domestic employee still needs to be paid overtime above 40 hours in a week and in some states overtime applies for over 8 hours in a day.  The hourly wage also needs to be above minimum wage.  Domestic employers also need to pay federal and state unemployment and social security and Medicare.  GTM located in New York, is a good company to get a free consultation.  Check out their website at http://www.gtm.com/gtm_household/household.html

  • Dedria H.B.

    The idea that newcomers to the culture use domestic work as a step into the culture is a valid one as far as it goes. That was the case a century ago when my grandmother was living in an executive’s home. She was a high school student and this family supported her unconditionally. Dishes could wait when she had homework, or a date. But today, here and now, many of the domestics are not citizens and considering the hard heartedness of some Americans, they, nor their children, ever will be. Much luck to Ai-Jen Poo in her efforts to create justice for these women workers.

  • Heredia_victoria

    We, the people middle class or higher from latinoamerica usually have a domestic worker at least when we were in our country and when we move here, to USA, we try to find someone for that position. Since many of these workers come from latinoamerica it is very easy to find them just in supermarkets or areas of high latino density. They are everywhere, Boston, D.C., Baltimore, Philly, Chicago. Most of them don’t have papers. If I know this, the goverment has to know it because I am just a resident not an inmigration officer.

  • Stephanie Felzenberg

    Re: comment below saying that if workers went on strike it wouldn’t matter: It is estimated that in 12-million households both parents work full-time. Millions of working parents not being able to go work would not matter? Childcare is essential to our economy! Custodial care is not enough. Quality care is essential. Custodial care is sub-standard childcare (care that merely keeps children safe, warm, and fed). Custodial care does not consistently include planned age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate social, physical, cognitive, and psychological care. In fact, a study shows that low-quality care can have a lasting impact. Click here to learn more about the study. Nannies (in-home childcare givers) are domestic workers that provide quality care by providing individual care following the specific needs and desires of the parents about nutrition, learning, and discipline. Babies are held more often, and comforted when crying with a nanny. The child is cared for in the comfortable environment of their home. Nannies can transport kids to activities and doctor visits. Nannies can be flexible with the parents’ work schedule. Parents do not have to dress and pack up kids to transport them to outside care. Plus, nannies can run errands, tidy the home, wash laundry, and more.

    Really? Domestic workers don’t matter? That many parents not going to work doesn’t matter?

    • Stephanie Felzenberg

      Re: comment below saying that if workers went on strike it wouldn’t matter: It is estimated that in 12-million households both parents work full-time. Millions of working parents not being able to go work would not matter? Childcare is essential to our economy!
      Custodial care is not enough. Quality care is essential. Custodial care is sub-standard childcare (care that merely keeps children safe, warm, and fed). Custodial care does not consistently include planned age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate social, physical, cognitive, and psychological care.
      In fact, a study with results published in 2010 shows that low-quality care can have a lasting impact. Nannies (in-home childcare givers) are domestic workers that provide quality care by providing individual care following the specific needs and desires of the parents about nutrition, learning, and discipline. Babies are held more often, and comforted when crying with a nanny. The child is cared for in the comfortable environment of their home. Nannies can transport kids to activities and doctor visits. Nannies can be flexible with the parents’ work schedule. Parents do not have to dress and pack up kids to transport them to outside care. Plus, nannies can run errands, tidy the home, wash laundry, and more.
      Really? Domestic workers don’t matter? That many parents not going to work doesn’t matter?

  • Evelyn Grassmann, CPP

    I agree that domestic workers need to be treated fairly and equal to those who work in the business world.  Many employers try to avoid doing this as the cost can be substancial.  I work for a payroll company that offers solutions for household employers and guides them through the labor and tax laws.  GTM Payroll Services can also assist with additional services to make domestic employment beneficial for both the employee and employer.  For information check our website at http://www.gtm.com or call for information 1-888-432-7972.  Thank you!

  • NannyMichelleDe

    Every time the topic of domestic rights is discussed some dummies make rude comments about domestics and then also insult the parents who have to work to raise their families. I don’t think it’s a sin or immoral for both parents to have to work. It’s the norm in American society.

    Some idiots (like Jonathon K. for example) blame the poorest (the domestic workers) and the parents trying their best to provide for their families. It enrages me! Judgmental, rude and ignorant fools. Pick on people that deserve your nasty comments not hard working domestics and parents who are all trying to make an honest living.

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