Many New Yorkers could not survive without their nannies - those
child-loving, cradle-rocking, near members of the family. But now
that relationship has another dimension added to it: demands for
adequate pay and at least enough time off for the occasional movie.
After hearing horrible cases of nanny abuse, the New York City
Council has passed the first legislation of its kind in the nation
giving domestic workers rights, such as making them aware of labor
laws regarding salary, benefits, and vacations.
The action here may presage a growing movement across America
that readjusts the relationships between families and their live-in
help. Groups in several major cities - including Los Angeles, San
Francisco, and Washington D.C. - are now pushing legislation similar
to New York's. Thus the experiment here is being closely watched.
The new bill is expected to affect thousands of immigrants and
minorities who often work long hours for less than minimum wage. It
might also impact the quality of life for dual-income families that
count on domestic workers to walk the dachshund, thaw dinners, and
"They are taking care of our children and our houses," says Gale
Brewer, the councilor who sponsored the legislation. "If the
domestic workers went on strike, the whole city would shut down."
Under the legislation, employment agencies have to notify nannies
and other live-in workers in writing about their responsibilities,
wages, and expected hours. Families must sign an agreement that they
are aware of the domestic workers' rights regarding minimum wage,
overtime pay, and Social Security. Violations can bring a $1,000
fine and one-year prison sentence.
An estimated 600,000 domestic workers live in the New York City
area. Most are immigrants, who are often not aware of labor laws or
are scared to challenge employers out of fear of losing their jobs
But in the last several years, a number of high-profile cases
have surfaced, such as one in Silver Spring, Md., where a couple
were found guilty of enslaving a young woman from Cameroon. The year
before a man in Gaithersburg, Md., received 6-1/2 years in prison
for violating the rights of a Brazilian woman who worked in his home
for 20 years.
Ms. Brewer became aware of the situation last year, when Domestic
Workers United and a group of New York University Law School
students approached her. Brewer worked with the group for months,
drafting legislation and listening to the harrowing stories of many
domestic workers. …